Catholic Identity, Affirmative Action, and university growth discussed at September 5 event

Notre Dame President, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C. presented the new university Strategic Framework in his annual address to the faculty on Tuesday, September 5. This framework, titled “Notre Dame 2033, ” is a 10-year plan for university operations.

At the event, Provost John McGreevy moderated a roundtable discussion with Barbara R. Snyder, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), and Peter Lange, Provost Emeritus of Duke University. They discussed how Notre Dame might implement the framework, focusing especially on the school’s Catholic identity. They also discussed how to accord admissions policy with the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action.

Catholic Identity and Hiring

The first goal of the framework is to “ensure that our Catholic character informs all our endeavors.” 

The introduction to the framework states that Notre Dame has an obligation to “offer a complementary approach to excellence that bridges faith and reason in an academic world accustomed to separating them.” It continues, “Notre Dame’s approach is anchored in Roman Catholicism, the religious tradition that gave birth to universities in the medieval era and that has become the world’s most global, multicultural, and multilingual institution.”

At the roundtable, Lange described Notre Dame’s Catholic tradition as “an advantage because it is something that you hold that others do not.” He suggested further that Notre Dame “bring that broad Catholic tradition, not a narrow one … to bear on the activities, teaching, learning, and research in the university.”

Throughout most of the roundtable discussion, Provost McGreevy read questions submitted by the faculty, which Snyder and Lange each answered. But McGreevy noted that three faculty members asked him specifically to answer the question, “How do we sustain the Catholic mission of the university in the context of hiring Catholic faculty?”

McGreevy answered that hiring Catholic faculty is important for ensuring that Notre Dame sustains her “particular Catholic mission.” But he continued, “We’ve never said there was a quota. We’ve never said, you know, 51 percent versus 49 percent makes a huge difference. But we have said we’re committed to Catholic hiring, because that is our distinctive mission and our comparative advantage. And the hope is that that continues in a profound way over the next decade.” 

Provost McGreevy did not respond to the Rover’s request for comment.

Former Notre Dame President Father Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C., previously asserted that the portion of the university’s Mission Statement that speaks about the necessity of a “continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals” should be read in stronger terms.

In a 2006 talk, given while he was president, Malloy stated that “a predominant number” “refers to both more than 50 percent and not simply being satisfied with 50 percent [Catholic faculty].” He reiterated, “It’s an effort, without specifying a specific number, to take seriously that numbers and percentages make a difference.”

Growth and Investment in Competitive Student Support

The second portion of the framework, titled “Where Notre Dame should go,” mentions several areas in which the university seeks to “strengthen already excellent foundations in an effort to achieve preeminence.” The framework favorably contrasts its approach of building upon strengths with a strategy that alternatively seeks “competence in areas where our track record is [now] modest.” 

One such area in which the university seeks to focus on building upon strong foundations is financial support for students.

The framework outlines that the university is prepared to increase investment in financial aid to bolster undergraduate diversity, better residential housing to cultivate a stronger campus community, and undergraduate curriculum and research to improve the caliber of undergraduate education. In particular, the framework mentions building “new facilities” for science and engineering that invest in “health and well-being,” “climate change and the environment,” and “data and computational science.”

On the subject of financial aid for undergraduates, the plan also mentions the possibility of expanding its need-blind financial aid policy to international students as a possible remedy to its relatively low proportion of international undergraduates, but admits this would be a “dramatic (and expensive)” solution. 

The university also intends to increase financial support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to better compete with peer institutions, and it remains committed to “attracting, developing, and retaining talented and diverse staff.” 

The section on growth concludes by identifying “particular intellectual areas where the university already possesses excellence and can imagine preeminence.”  These include “the humanities and the arts,” which “will remain central to Notre Dame because of their importance for understanding truth, beauty, and the human condition, and their centrality to Catholic intellectual life.” The other areas outlined for growth are democracy and ethics.

One particular goal concerning the university’s plan to become preeminent in the study of democracy  is to “consciously strive to become a forum for bipartisan conversations about a shared democratic future.” 

With regard to ethics, the framework states, “Success would be more top-flight scholars with both a professional and public voice on important ethical questions; opportunities for students to confront contemporary challenges such as artificial intelligence, bioethics, and ethical investing; and a commitment to hosting significant public events on these topics.”

Diversity and Affirmative Action

The new Strategic Framework expresses a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout. In the section titled “Diversity and Inclusion,” the framework details its all-encompassing diversity goals as “cultural,” “intellectual,” and “representational.” 

In response to the Supreme Court ruling this summer in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, which held race-based affirmative action in college admissions to be unconstitutional, the framework states: “More needs to be done to recruit underrepresented students from within the United States. This summer’s Supreme Court decisions will complicate, but not deter, our efforts to enroll a student body that reflects the diversity of experiences and gifts of the human family.” 

Regarding this same topic, Lange argued in the roundtable that the ruling on affirmative action “leaves a massive amount of space for figuring out what to do,” and that “a commitment to diversity means pushing those boundaries and taking the risk that something you do may get [you] sued.”

“If you don’t take those risks,” he concluded, “we’re going to have a serious backsliding in the diversity of our student bodies.”

Association of American Universities

In his address, Fr. Jenkins also celebrated Notre Dame’s new membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU), stating, “Membership in the AAU will bring Notre Dame practical benefits allowing us to join annual meetings of presidents, provosts, vice presidents for research, and other academic leaders of the world’s best research universities.”

He added that “Access to valuable data collected and studies done by the AAU [will] help us assess our progress and assist us in our decisions,” and he celebrated “a recognition by the world’s most distinguished association of research universities [of] the progress Notre Dame has made in recent decades.”

Notre Dame was recently inducted into the AAU alongside Arizona State University; George Washington University; the University of California, Riverside; the University of Miami; and the University of South Florida. 

Notre Dame is also “the only explicitly religious institution in the AAU,” as Fr. Jenkins pointed out in his faculty address. Currently, the AAU consists of 71 universities in the United States and Canada. Other notable schools in the AAU are all eight Ivy League institutions, the University of Chicago, and Duke University.

In addition to the faculty address and accompanying roundtable event, the Strategic Framework will also be discussed at the Fall 2023 Staff Town Hall, set to be held on Tuesday, September 19. Questions for the town hall can be submitted here.

Brandon “Buddy” Williams is a senior mechanical engineering major from the great state of Texas. You can catch him with his canine companions enjoying the last bit of sunlight on South Quad before the winter hibernation.  If you would like to offer him suggestions for his viral Gregorian Chant playlist, he can be reached at

Photo Credit: Notre Dame Events, 2022

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