The Faculty Issue
It’s what goes on in the classroom that matters most.
The nature of a university depends ultimately upon what goes on in the classroom – who’s teaching and what they teach. Notre Dame has recognized this with respect to Catholic identity by declaring in its Mission Statement:
The Catholic identity of the University depends upon, and is nurtured by, the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals on the faculty.
However, this view is not shared by the Faculty Senate which, in a relentless drive for recognition by secular academe and ranking organizations, has made its own countervailing declaration:
The University should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity.(Notre Dame Faculty Senate April 9, 2008.)
In fact, Notre Dame’s hiring of Catholics teachers has fallen off so badly that the proportion of committed Catholic faculty members has plummeted far below a “predominant number” — which has both deprived many students of the Catholic education to which they and their parents were entitled and also produced the seedbed for the jarring actions that we have highlighted in our bulletins and elsewhere on this site. (More, the administration has set a hiring policy designed merely to maintain the status quo. If those in governance do not revise this policy in a major way, Notre Dame as an authentically Catholic university will be lost to history, and it will not take long for all to know it.
Mission Statement Test
The central document is the university’s mission statement test of Catholic identity: a “preponderant number” of “Catholic intellectuals” on the faculty. That criteria is rooted in a similar standard in Pope John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the United States bishops Application of Ex Corde. All agree that “preponderant number” means a majority, and since the “Catholic intellectuals” are those who contribute to the Catholic identity of the school, they cannot be merely nominal Catholics. They must be “dedicated, committed Catholics,” in the words of former Provost Timothy O’Meara.
The percentage of self-declared Catholics has plummeted from 85% in the mid-1970’s to 54% in 2019, the last time the administration disclosed the figure. Since then the administration has refused to disclose the current data. This refusal followed a decline in the percentage to 54% . It is reasonable to infer that there has been a further decline the administration does not wish to reveal.
But whatever the figure, the important consideration is that it represents “check-the-box” Catholics, faculty who check the “Catholic” box on a personnel form when they are hired. No one would claim that the “committed, dedicated” Catholics among them constitute close to a majority. Applying discounts applicable to Catholics in general, those Catholics are somewhere in the 25% range. Whatever the precise number, it certainly falls far short of meeting the university’s own test of Catholic identity.
The conclusion is hard. No one likes to hear it. But the fact is that, while there is still much that is Catholic about Notre Dame, it is no longer an authentically Catholic university. It tells us so itself.
- The Mission Statement: “The Catholic identity of the University depends upon, and is nurtured by, the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals” on the faculty. (Italics supplied in quotations throughout.)
- Ex Corde Ecclesiae: “In order not to endanger the Catholic identity of the University or Institute of Higher Studies, the number of non-Catholic teachers should not be allowed to constitute a majority within the Institution, which is and must remain Catholic.”
- The bishops’ Application of Ex Corde Ecclesiae to the United States: “[T]he university should strive to recruit and appoint Catholics as professors so that, to the extent possible, those committed to the witness of the faith will constitute a majority of the faculty.”
The Meaning of “Preponderant Number” and “Catholic Intellectuals”
- Father Malloy: “’A predominant number refers to both more than 50 percent and not simply being satisfied with 50 percent. It’s an effort, without specifying a specific number, to take seriously that numbers and percentages make a difference.” (Observer 10.11.06)
- Father Malloy: “It remains our goal that dedicated and committed Catholics predominate in number among the faculty.” (Strategic Plan Final Report)
- Father Jenkins: “[W]e must have a preponderance of Catholic faculty and scholars, those who have been spiritually formed in that tradition and who embrace it.” (2005 address to the faculty)
- Provost Burish: “It’s to have a majority of faculty who are Catholic, who understand the nature of the religion, who can be living role models, who can talk with students about issues outside the classroom and can infuse values into what they do.” (ND Magazine Summer 2007)
- Provost Timothy O’Meara: “If Notre Dame is to remain a Catholic university, dedicated and committed Catholics must clearly predominate on the faculty.” (1983 P.A.C.E. report)
The Shrinking Catholic Faculty
University data respecting Catholic faculty include all who self-designate by checking the “Catholic” box on a personnel form at the time of hiring. Here are key data respecting tenured and tenure-track faculty:
- Since the 1970’s. The percentage of Catholic faculty has fallen from “near 85 percent in the 1970s” (Father Jenkins 2005 to faculty) to 54% in 2019, the most recent available figure (Dennis Brown to Bill Dempsey).
- From the Fact Book, 1986 through 2007: For two decades the university published the Fact Book, a comprehensive compilation of data respecting the university that included detailed data on the proportion of Catholics on the faculty. Sycamore Trust began publishing these data shortly after its founding in 2005. Several years later the university stopped producing the Fact Book in order, the university said, to protect faculty privacy. A university spokesman declined to answer The Irish Rover’s question whether there had been any privacy complaints from faculty.
During the 1986 to 2007 Fact Book period, overall Catholic faculty representation fell from 67 percent to 53%.
With the demise of the Fact Book it became impossible to secure data respecting the various schools. From 1987 through 2007 these were the figures, which show notable variations even as the overall Catholic portion plummeted:
Down from 49% to 37%
Down from 63% to 52%
Up from 72% to 83%
Up from 44% to 53%
Up from 63% to 64%
- From 2007 to 2019: The decline leveled off from 2007 to 2019 with a very slight upward tick. The proportion went from 53.26% to 54%.
- From 2019 to 2022. Since the administration will not disclose the data, it is reasonable to infer a decline of an indeterminate but worrisome size.
With 54% or less of the faculty self-identified Catholics, has Notre Dame retained or lost its Catholic identity?
- Self-evidently, only Catholics who contribute to the school’s Catholic identity count as those upon whom that identity “depends” within the meaning of the Mission Statement.They are, in the words of Fathers Jenkins and Malloy and Provosts Burish and O’Meara, “dedicated and committed Catholics” who “embrace” the Catholic tradition.
- Also self-evidently, many of the faculty who check the Catholic box on a form at the time of hiring do not fit this description. Professor Emeritus Walter Nicgorski declared at a 2009 Sycamore Trust breakfast gathering: “Along with the steep decline of the percentage of faculty who are Catholics to about 50 per cent, there is the widely shared recognition that a large number of those who list themselves as Catholics are not inclined to be involved in any concerns about the religious character of this university.”
- Studies disclose that only around one-third of self-identified Catholics regularly attend Mass. If that discount were applied, Catholic faculty representation would be about 20%. If a more generous 50% figure were applied, the Catholic proportion would be about 27%. For there to be the required majority, 93% of the “check-the-box” faculty would have to be “dedicated and committed” Catholics.
The administration in 2007 adopted a goal of hiring Catholic faculty that is geared toward maintaining the status quo. That annual goal is to hire at least 50.1% self-declared Catholics annually.
The Faculty Senate responded to the 50% goal with a faculty survey that disclosed “concern” over a “goal of hiring over 50% Catholics” and a resolution declaring: “The university should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity