Hide and Seek

SOUTH BEND, IN — This bulletin is an important preface to a coming bulletin in which we will review comprehensively the weakening of the Catholic presence on the faculty so radical that, as we have shown before, the school no longer meets its own test of Catholic identity.

Here, our principal subject is the damaging and ominous decision of the Administration to withhold the information on Catholic faculty representation that had been disclosed for decades. We have referred to this decision briefly in the past. As you will see, it merits full attention.

Until this decision, reported initially in The Irish Rover, these data had been published annually for decades in the so-called “Fact Book,” a massive compilation of data providing an illuminating profile of the University. The entire Notre Dame community as well as all with a “need to know” had access to the Fact Book. We were supplied with the information pertinent to Catholic faculty representation.

That information permitted an illuminating analysis of the shrinking of the Catholic faculty representation overall as well as of the notably disparate records of the various schools.

Thus, for example, from 1987 to 2007:

  • The overall University Catholic faculty representation declined from 64.5% to 53.3%.
  • In Arts & Letters — where it counts the most because of departments such as Theology, Philosophy, Political Science, English, History, and Program for Liberal Studies — the decline was the sharpest, from 71.8% to 54.2%.
  • In Science — also important because of increasingly serious bioethical issues and the historic question of the compatibility of faith and reason — from 49.2% to a strikingly low 37.4%.
  • In Engineering, from 63.2% to 52%.

In contrast:

  • In the robustly Catholic Law School, Catholic representation increased from 72% to 83.3%.
  • In Architecture, from 44.4% to 52.9%.

And in Business, Catholic representation remained steady at a solid 64%.

With the discontinuance of the annual publication of the Fact Book, there is no guaranty that any information at all will be provided. At best, it appears, some university representative or publication will occasionally mention a university-wide rounded off figure. If, at least, there has not been a decline. We do not know what might happen then.

Even if this single figure is regularly disclosed – 53% is the last we have seen — it will not permit an informed judgment as to the true state of affairs. Obviously, one will not know what is happening among the various schools — whether, for example, there is a further decline in Arts & Letters perhaps offset by increases in other schools. More, there are other serious problems respecting the reliability and significance of such a representation that we describe in the “Notes” below rather than here because of their somewhat technical nature.

But the most troublesome question that immediately springs to mind is why the Administration, after all these years, suddenly decided to suppress this important information.

The most obvious explanation is that the data, which were publicized for the first time by Sycamore Trust, were thought too embarrassing and that it was feared they could become even more so.

The Administration insists, though, that it is simply trying to protect the privacy of the faculty. The data, the University spokesperson claimed, might “reveal the religion of a faculty member against his or her wishes.”

Consider the plausibility of this explanation:

  • The alleged privacy concern evidently never occurred to anyone for decades.
  • The University spokesperson declined to say whether any faculty member had complained.
  • The alleged risk is exceedingly remote and could easily have been eliminated altogether without major change. As the University spokesman seemed to concede in the Rover article and as we demonstrate in the Notes below, the risk could materialize only with respect to a new hire in a small academic unit. Accordingly, if privacy were the concern, it could easily have been secured from such improbable sleuthing by merging the data from the one or two smaller schools with the larger.

But quite beyond these factors, consider who might be the beneficiary of the University’s solicitude that no one know whether he or she claimed to be Catholic.

Surely it would not be a practicing Catholic who checked the Catholic box, or a non-Catholic who didn’t. They would have no concern whatever whether anyone knew they had, or hadn’t, claimed to be Catholic.

Who, then, might be concerned? First, a non-Catholic applicant who checked the Catholic box thinking it a plus. Second, a non-practicing Catholic who doesn’t want it known he or she claimed to be Catholic.

Even if there were anyone like that on Notre Dame’s faculty, protecting them against a remote risk that his or her duplicity might be uncovered would hardly warrant the canceling of a decades-long policy of transparency respecting important faculty data.

This is a deeply troubling move by the University.

We conclude with a heartfelt thanks to those many of you who responded to our recent request for contributions. Due to your generosity and that of those who have contributed earlier, we will be able to sustain and expand our work. We are grateful indeed.


  • The Irish Rover special offer. As we noted, The Irish Rover broke this story, as it has many others. Please consider supporting these fine students by acting on a special offer: the Internet edition for the balance of this year plus next year for the price of a year’s subscription: $15.00. Subscription instructions are given on the Rover’s web site. Mention “Sycamore Trust” to show you are responding to this special offer.
  • The Business School honored. For the second consecutive year, Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business, especially noted for its stress on ethics, has been awarded the #1 spot in Bloomberg’s ranking of undergraduate business schools, As we noted above, the Business School has maintained a Catholic faculty representation of 64% throughout the 20-year period of the radical overall shrinking of Catholic faculty representation. All owe a deep debt of gratitude to Dean Carolyn Woo, who has just departed to assume the leadership of Catholic Relief services.
  • The Student Right-to-Life newsletter. If you haven’t signed up for “Footprints,” the free Internet newsletter of the student Right to Life club, take a minute to examine the current issue with its report on the RTL events and the bonus of a fine prize-winning story by third-year student Elizabeth Everett. We hope you will be moved to join the Footprints mailing list, which you can easily do through the Internet site.
  • Pro-life alumni & friends Facebook group. You might also be interested in joining a new Facebook discussion group, “Pro-Life Alumni, Students, & Friends of the University of Notre Dame.” The more members, the more vibrant and instructive the site will be.
  • Further detail on the University’s flimsy rationale and deficiencies in reporting only a University-wide rounded off percentage of Catholic faculty.
    • If an increase in Catholic faculty is reported, it will be impossible to know if it is genuine or simply the result of including a more Catholic group of employees. That is exactly what may have been foreshadowed several years ago, when the University included in the Fact Book for the first time an additional table that included a group of employees such as adjunct instructors and professional specialists relatively more of whom were Catholic.
    • The rounding off of the overall number means that a reported increase (or decrease) could mean no more than a .1% shift (e.g., 53.4% to 53.5%). Thus, should an increase from 53% to 54% be reported, it could mean no more than one additional Catholic in a faculty of around 900.
    • An increase in the overall percentage could be the result of increases in the already robustly Catholic Law School faculty or the relatively strong Business School faculty while the Arts & Letters percentage, say, could have declined. Or the increase could have been in the very depressed Science faculty while, again, there might have been a decrease in the A&L faculty.
    • As we noted above, a theoretical risk of disclosure was possible only in a school with a small faculty. Probably the only example is Architecture, with a faculty of 17 in 2006-07 of whom 9 had checked the “Catholic” box. If the next year the total number and the number of Catholics had both risen by one and there were no departures, the new member would presumably have marked “Catholic” on the form.

    Since this sort of improbable sleuthing would be impossible in other schools with large faculties and substantial turnovers and additions each year, Architecture could have been merged for these purposes into Arts & Letters. Out of a superabundance of caution, Engineering with its larger faculty could have been merged into Science. Plainly enough, the Administration was not seeking a way to continue disclosure.

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