Notre Dame’s Faculty Misadventure Chapter III

It’s no secret that there are divergent views within the Administration (Guest)

Ow22cQ3WTH-8NOTRE DAME, IN —We close our discussion of the faculty question by reproducing exchange on our website between an anonymous commentator, “Guest,” evidently a member of the faculty, and Bill Dempsey. Guest is well informed and makes perhaps the best argument that can be made on behalf of the administration. But Guest is unable to deal with the two considerations fundamental to our analysis: First, Catholic faculty representation has fallen so dramatically that it no longer meets the University’s own test of Catholic identity; and, second, the administration’s hiring goal is not designed to increase that representation.

Guest candidly described the heart of the problem:

It’s no secret that there are divergent views within the Administration (and even more so among the faculty) regarding the role that Catholic faculty play in the university’s mission, the ideal percentage of Catholics among the faculty, and the emphasis to be placed on these issues among the others affecting Notre Dame’s Catholic identity

As Bill observed, this is undoubtedly the reason for the deterioration of Catholic faculty presence, but it is scarcely a justification. The Mission Statement requirement was the result of prolonged  debate. It accords with Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the bishops’ Application of that encyclical. Faculty members are free to disagree with it but not to ignore it, and the administration is obliged to give it effect.

Guest opened with a criticism of our citation of an essay by Dr. R. R. Reno, the editor of First things. The discussion quickly broadened. (Because the exchange took place before the current academic year, a few of the references are slightly dated, but in no material way.)

Here is the exchange in full:

The Exchange


If you want an accurate picture of Catholic “mission hiring” at Notre Dame, please don’t rely on unsubstantiated rumors appearing on the First Things website. Instead, contact Fr. Robert Sullivan, who is coordinating the effort to identify and recruit serious Catholic faculty, both at the junior and senior level. Here is an excerpt from an interview with Fr. Sullivan that appeared in the ND Alum newsletter (and, unlike Mr. Reno, he names names):

“Remember, we’re interested in hiring only top-flight teacher-scholars. We canvas fields and see who’s academically appropriate and available. In some fields, that may be relatively easy, but in others it’s more demanding. Take engineering, for example. In the United States, about 60 percent of all Ph.D.s are granted to foreign students, very few of whom are Catholic. Additionally, most Ph.D. engineers don’t become professors. Our saving grace is that in a given year, Notre Dame doesn’t hire huge numbers of engineers. Fulfilling the University’s commitment to maintain a preponderantly Catholic faculty could require a department in engineering to recruit only one Catholic faculty member every other year.

Getting specific is dangerous because in naming names, you’ll seem to slight folks who are making terrific contributions. I apologize to them in advance.

The success of the new Department of Economics and Econometrics is impressive. Rich Jensen, the chair, is a superb entrepreneur. A couple of years ago, he recruited Bill Evans (now Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Economics) from the University of Maryland. A very serious Catholic, Bill is a prominent scholar and an energetic recruiter.

In August 2009 at the senior level, economics was joined by Robert Flood, formerly the senior economist at the World Bank, and a distinguished scholar, who specializes in bubbles, crises, and speculative attacks.

Another mission hire this year was at the junior level: Eric Sims was the top-ranked Ph.D. in Ann Arbor in economics. It probably did us no harm that Eric is married to a Domer—a physician now on staff at Memorial Hospital. In the case of Professor Evans, as with most of our mission hires, there was no personal Notre Dame tie. For many of them, the prospect of building a preeminent research university that’s also seriously Catholic, is profoundly appealing. For colleagues like Evans, Sims, and Flood, that means the chance to share in building a major program in econometrics.

Because of the size of the College of Arts and Letters, most of our successes occur there, but other academic units are actively and successfully pursuing mission hires. The Law School has recruited a distinguished scholar named Stephen Smith. He was the John V. Ray Research Professor of Law at the University of Virginia. He is Catholic and African American. Virginia is a top-10 law school. Professor Smith has been on the Law School’s radar screen for several years, and it hosted him as a visiting professor, along with his family, during the fall semester last year.

I can boast a little about an assistant professor whom the Law School added this year. Dan Kelly ’02 was a summa cum laude in economics. He took a couple of courses with me and seemed born to become a professor. From Notre Dame, he went to Harvard Law School where he graduated with honors. Then he clerked for a federal circuit judge, worked on Wall Street, and had visiting fellowships—first at the Yale Law School and, last year, at the Harvard Law School.”


I appreciate Guest’s focusing on our central concern, namely, Catholic representation on the faculty. We have in the past invited Fr. Sullivan to participate in a panel discussion on the subject, but unfortunately he was otherwise occupied. We would be delighted to engage him in a public forum at any time. Absent such an opportunity, we deal with what he and others say. In brief, here are my observations:

  1. We did not rely on an “unsubstantiated rumor” by Dr. Reno on the First Things website. We would not have done that. Rather, we cited Dr. Freddoso’s substantiating, and worrisome, account of the episode in question and its ramifications.
  2. It is Fr. Sullivan who relies on a handful of examples. Of course there have been outstanding Catholic scholars added to the faculty in recent years, just as there have been in the past even as Catholic representation on the faculty has plummeted from 75% in the 70’s to 53% today.
  3. The question is whether the University now meets its own test of Catholic identity, namely, whether there are a “preponderant number of Catholic intellectuals on the faculty.” If Guest will examine the material on our home page and the several bulletins we have devoted to this subject, Guest will find an exhaustive analysis of this issue. It is not a close question. The University fails its own test by a wide margin. There is no dispute that a substantial number of the “check-the-box” Catholics counted in the 53% are merely nominal or dissenting Catholics. Using even the most conservative discount, the qualifying Catholics come far short of a majority.
  4. Neither in this article nor in his presentation during Alumni Weekend did Fr. Sullivan come to grips with this question. On the Alumni Weekend panel, he explicitly defined “predominant” as meaning a majority, and then by citing the 53% he seemed to imply that the standard was met. But he refrained, deliberately one must suppose, from defining the term “Catholic.” Surely he would not have argued that it sweeps in dissenting and merely nominal Catholics.
  5. Any honest discussion of this question by a University spokesperson, then, should begin with an acknowledgement that Catholic faculty presence has become so attenuated that the Mission Statement standard is no longer met. Perhaps that is too much to expect, but at least they should not give the impression that all is well.
  6. The question, then, is what Fr. Sullivan or anyone else has said the University intends to do about it. It is good to know that Fr. Sullivan is at work searching out possibilities. But it is very discouraging to hear him and others declare that the goal the University has established is to hire 50% Catholics annually. He surely knows that, given the demographics of the faculty — the great majority of retiring faculty are Catholic — if this is the best that is done the game is really over. Our projections, which we offered to discuss with the University to no avail, are on our website. At that level of hiring, Catholic representation would slide into even an arithmetical minority at a level from which recovery would be impossible.
  7. Just as worrisome is the decision of the University to withhold, even from the faculty, the data on hiring of Catholics that have been reported annually for decades. One can hardly resist the implication that the University anticipates it will have something to hide.
  8. On the positive side, hiring for at least two of the most recent years has substantially exceeded 50% Catholic so that the slide has been temporarily slowed if not arrested. But that has happened in the past at well, and with the 50% goal out there and a faculty that accords priority to hiring for prestige rather than for Catholic identity, there is scant reason to hope that the situation will not continue to deteriorate, much less that it will improve.In fact, in his Alumni Weekend presentation, Fr. Sullivan remarked that only time will tell whether there will be any improvement.

We will devote another bulletin to the subject, with particular attention to what Fr. Sullivan has said, in the near future. But I would be pleased to continue this discussion with Guest should Guest wish.


A few observations:

  1. It may be true that most of the faculty who are retiring or near retirement age are Catholic. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are practicing Catholics, nor does it mean that they support the Catholic mission of the university. As you well know, “Catholics in name only” can be some of the most difficult stumbling blocks in the Church and society. See Nancy Pelosi.
  2. Some departments, like Philosophy, have no current openings and, if there are no retirements or other departures, it is unlikely that they will have significant numbers of openings in the foreseeable future. Fr. Sullivan and those working with him on mission hiring do face constraints imposed by the reality of current hiring needs — it is not going to be possible to turn the ship around overnight, or even over the next ten years. This is a long-term project, and some of the initiatives put in place by Fr. Sullivan — such as the outreach to Catholic PhD candidates at top research universities — may not bear fruit for more than a decade.
  3. Some of the best and most committed recent Catholic hires have come, with tenure, from successful careers at distinguished secular universities. Many of them took a step down in “prestige” by coming to Notre Dame, as they left departments more highly ranked than the ones they have joined here. They came BECAUSE OF Notre Dame’s Catholic mission, not because this was simply the best offer available. Contrary to what some recalcitrant department heads insist, Notre Dame did not have to sacrifice academic quality in order to hire serious Catholics for these positions.
  4. Some of the faculty members most supportive of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission, such as David Solomon, are not themselves Catholics. Others, who are not Catholic when they join the ND community, end up converting to Catholicism after spending some time here. It’s important not to get caught up in a game of head-counting that overlooks the very real contribution of many non-Catholic faculty. Surely you will agree that a non-Catholic who is nevertheless supportive of the university’s Catholic mission is a far more preferable candidate than a CINO who publicly dissents from many core Church teachings.
  5. Notre Dame is the only Catholic university with the resources and academic standing to pursue this ambitious goal of becoming a serious research institution that is also firmly committed to its Catholic mission. Every other candidate for that task has long since dropped out of contention. Fr. Sullivan is absolutely correct that only time will tell whether this goal has been achieved. But please keep in mind that he and we are not starting from scratch. We’re working within an existing institution, with a group of fallible human beings, not all of whom are on the same page with respect to the university’s Catholic mission in general or Catholic hiring in particular. We don’t have the luxury of asking everyone who doesn’t agree with us to leave so that we can start over. It took decades for some of these problems to become entrenched, and it’s simply unreasonable to expect an instant resolution, especially on the hiring front.


I find nothing to question in Guest’s informative discussion. Plainly, Notre Dame is fortunate to have Guest there.

Certainly a number of non-Catholic scholars, committed to their own faith traditions, are more supportive of and more important to Notre Dame’s mission than many nominal Catholics. We have often said so.

And certainly there are a number of persons within the university, such as Guest, other faculty members and Father Sullivan, who are working with dedication and energy to strengthen the University’s Catholic identity through hiring and doubtless other means as well. Otherwise there really would be no hope whatever.
And it is heartening to see how Notre Dame has been able to attract distinguished scholars because it is Catholic.

And certainly the recovery of a predominantly Catholic faculty would take a good deal of time in the best of circumstances. Catholic representation fell on average less than half a percent a year over the past quarter century. Our projections indicate that a hiring rate of around 60% is necessary simply to maintain the unsatisfactory status quo for the immediate future. Only after five or six years or something in that range would the proportion begin to creep up, and then at a slow pace. As a practical matter, my view is that this is the best that could be hoped for with the most determined leadership.

The problem is that there is insufficient reason to believe the present leadership is committed to the steps necessary to restore Catholic identity. First, there is no reason to think that it regards the present situation as unsatisfactory. Quite the contrary. And, second, as I have indicated, the hiring goal it has set is inadequate even to maintain the present situation.

I return to the most important and intractable fact: Catholic representation on the faculty is substantially below the number upon which, the University declared after extensive study and deliberation, its Catholic identity “depends.”

Nevertheless, everything Fr. Sullivan has said, and everything visible that one can see from the Administration, indicates that it is satisfied with a bare arithmetical majority of check-the-box Catholics. For example, while in Fr. Jenkins’s fine first address to the faculty he sounded the alarm about Catholic identity and for a time included it as a principal element in his addresses, he has shifted to emphasis upon hiring for academic advancement and increased minority and female representation. And the adoption of a 50% hiring goal can mean nothing other than a willingness to accept even a moderate deterioration in the status quo – a likely reason for shutting off access to information about Catholic representation.

The question in the end is one of priorities. To strive for both prominence as a research university and a robust Catholic identity may be a worthy goal, but perhaps Guest would agree that the two aims are in some tension. But while advancement as a research institution can be stretched out, the loss of Catholic identity is after a point irrevocable. The question is whether those in governance and most of the faculty would rather have a school that is truly Catholic and as strong a research university as is consistent with that identity, or instead as highly rated a research university as is achievable and as Catholic a place as is possible consistent with that goal.

As matters stand, I suggest that the dominant forces at the University stand in the second camp rather than the first. Unless that is changed at the top, I fear the ultimate result is foreordained. For Fr. Jenkins to take the steps necessary to insure a restoration of Catholic faculty predominance would be to invite significant faculty resistance, to be sure. Based on past experience, I see no reason to think that exhortation alone will serve. But when even exhortation is cabined by a 50% hiring goal, one has to wonder how the necessary turnabout is to take place. All in all, while people like Guest afford some reason for hope, there is not much to fuel faith.


It’s no secret that there are divergent views within the Administration (and even more so among the faculty) regarding the role that Catholic faculty play in the university’s mission, the ideal percentage of Catholics among the faculty, and the emphasis to be placed on these issues among the others affecting Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. Fr. Jenkins is juggling many balls when he addresses the faculty, and that he doesn’t mention Catholic hiring as a priority in a given address should not be taken to mean that he has abandoned that priority. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. It’s not necessarily a sign of weakness to focus on some of the other contentious matters, leaving Fr. Sullivan and those working with him to continue their efforts.

One thing that everyone who visits this page can do is to bring strong Catholic faculty candidates to the attention of Fr. Sullivan’s office. Another is to encourage their children and grandchildren to consider an academic career as a viable alternative to the law/medical/business professional path. Many solid undergraduates at Notre Dame, who have the interest in and potential for a bright future in academics, are dissuaded from pursuing a PhD by parents and other well-meaning family members who have an outdated notion of the job market in many fields, especially those outside the humanities. Eventually, some of those students may find their way back to Notre Dame as junior or senior faculty and continue the effort to make ND a top Catholic and research institution.


I hope all who read this will follow the counsel Guest offers in his last paragraph.

It is what Guest says in the first paragraph that, while admirably honest and doubtless accurate, is both unsettling and discouraging.

Faculty members are free to take whatever view they wish as to the wisdom of the policies set by those governing the university, but they should not be free to ignore them. To be sure, if the Administration does not insist that these policies be followed, it is hard to fault the faculty.

Those in the Administration, particularly the President and the other top officers, are bound to give effect to the policies established by the Board, and the Board and Fellows in turn are bound by the policies established in the University’s constituent documents. They do not take office with a free hand. They have heavy obligations to all who have created and formed the University that is handed over to them

Those constituent documents prescribe that Notre Dame is to be Catholic “in perpetuity.” The Mission Statement prescribes that to be Catholic there must be a “predominant number of Catholic intellectuals on the faculty.”

There is nothing in the founding documents that gives license to subordinate these requirements to some other goal, e.g., acquiring recognition as a leading research institution. Having declared what is essential to Catholic identity, those in governance cannot properly shove aside that requirement any more than they could decide to make Notre Dame Lutheran rather than Catholic.

The present state of affairs is the result of a breach of fiduciary duty on the part of the Board, the Fellows, and the President over a long period of time. In consequence the current holders of those positions, and in particular Father Jenkins, face a daunting task. But it is a responsibility they cannot properly escape.

There can, of course, be differing views as to subordinate questions such as how large a majority Catholics should hold. But it is a breach of fiduciary responsibility for the Board, the Fellows, or the President to fail to take whatever action is necessary to comply with the Mission Statement requirement.

And so it is distressing, if unsurprising, to know that there are “divergent views” within the Administration as to “the role that Catholic faculty play in the university’s mission, the ideal percentage of Catholics among the faculty, and the emphasis to be placed on these issues among the others affecting Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.” These questions cannot in conscience be thought up for grabs if these debates mean that the Administration thinks itself free to pursue other goals without insuring restoration of a solid Catholic faculty majority, or free to temper its efforts to increase Catholic hiring to accommodate the strongly held views of many faculty.

It asks a great deal of a President to take hold firmly enough to roll back gradually the results of many years of hiring in disregard of the overriding obligation to maintain Catholic identity. He must try his best to avoid major faculty unrest. He may try a variety of means, many not visible to outside observers. But act he must if he is to do his duty to donors, parents, alumni, and everyone else who is asked to accept the University’s declaration that it is, indeed, Catholic – a declaration that is, as matters stand, a misrepresentation. The University, through its Mission Statement, tells us so.

Instead, what we have is the establishment of a patently infirm hiring goal, strong indications that the Administration will be satisfied with a thin arithmetical check-the-box Catholic majority, and a consequent strong emphasis upon hiring for academic reputation and diversity.

The best hope, so far as I can see, is that, through the efforts of Guest and others like him, there will be no further deterioration for a long enough time for new leadership to come to the fore or for existing leadership to change course. It is not a hope readily accompanied by faith. Past performance may very well in this instance be an indicator of future results.

I thank Guest once again for his thoughtful and illuminating contribution to this discussion.


The reports on what the death of Justice Scalia means for the  challenges to the mandate have been confusing. These cases are scheduled for argument on March 23. (Notre Dame’s case is in the lower courts, where it is being held awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court in the cases it is considering.) The vote could be 4-4. When there is a tie vote, ordinarily the decision of the lower court stands. But in these cases that would mean that the law would not be uniform throughout the country, since the lower courts were divided. Accordingly, should there be a tie vote, the Court would doubtless order that the case be reargued when there will be a full court. In the meantime, Notre Dame employees will continue to receive free abortifacients and contraceptives, since Notre Dame is complying with the mandate.Justice Scalia and the Obamacare Contraceptive/Abortifacient Mandate Cases

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