We deeply regret bringing you news of a new hiring policy that, unless changed, will soon fatally compromise Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. Here are the facts:
As we have stressed, all studies confirm that a university’s religious identity depends upon its faculty. That is where secularization begins and where it triumphs before alumni know what’s happening. Since the student body remains largely Catholic or Methodist or Baptist, the liturgies and the like continue while the heart of the institution, the faculty, is being transformed. Ultimately, the religious façade collapses. That is the unbroken pattern traced by former Notre Dame Provost James T. Burtchaell, CSC, in his landmark study, The Dying of the Light, as well as by others.
The animating purpose of Project Sycamore has been to alert alumni and others in the Notre Dame family before it is too late that secularization is well underway at Notre Dame.
We have focused on the alarming decline in Catholic faculty representation from 85% to 53% over the last several decades. We have recently distributed two essays by the distinguished Notre Dame historian Wilson Miscamble, CSC, in which he relates why this has happened and why only a decisive about-face in the school’s hiring policy will prevent Catholics from slipping into a diminishing minority.
If this happens, the school will have lost its Catholic identity. The University itself tells us so. Notre Dame’s Mission Statement declares, “The Catholic identity of the University depends upon, and is nurtured by, the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals”; and all agree that this means a solid majority.
Nevertheless, it now appears that even the remaining slender Catholic majority is to be lost. While Father Jenkins’s professions of concern about the declining number of Catholic faculty sparked hope, he has now endorsed a hiring policy that insures this erosion will continue.
Under this policy, the goal is “to exceed annually 50% in the hiring of [Catholics to the] instructional faculty,” according to Father Robert Sullivan, the chair of the Provost’s ad hoc committee on hiring. When Father Sullivan’s statement appeared in The Irish Rover, we wrote Father Jenkins asking whether this is indeed the new policy. When he did not respond, we wrote again to say that we must conclude with regret that it is. (See our letters.)
This goal will fall far short of maintaining a Catholic majority because of the faculty demographics that have resulted from decades of hiring with an eye principally to secular reputation instead of to maintaining Catholic faculty predominance. As we said to Father Jenkins:
“Because of the heavy concentration of Catholics among retirees, it is obvious that in the short term a hiring rate just above 50% will not stem the decline in Catholic faculty. And our long-term projections show that, even in the unlikely event that the goal is consistently met, Catholics would soon become a dwindling minority and would not regain majority status within the 67-year time frame of our calculations. That is, for all practical purposes Catholics would never again be a majority.”
We invite you to examine these projections, which are based on information given to us by the University and available from other sources. These projections are reflected in graphs in an accompanying memorandum describing our assumptions and other details about the calculations. We offered to discuss them with University representatives, but received no response. Indeed, while Father Sullivan reported with evident satisfaction that a majority of those hired last year are Catholics, he declined to disclose what the result has been. Did the 53% go up or down or remain the same? We asked Father Jenkins. He did not answer. Neither parents nor students nor donors nor alumni know.
Whatever those results, we are confident of the fundamental soundness of our projections. They are confirmed by their correspondence with the actual experience of the College of Arts & Letters over a very recent seven-year period. During those years, between 50% and 55% of those hired were Catholic, and nevertheless Catholic representation declined on average one percent a year. Our projections match that pattern
The obvious question is why a palpably infirm policy has been adopted. Our projections show not only what won’t work, but also what will. A rate of 60-65% — perhaps an additional seven to ten Catholics a year – would serve. Surely this cannot be out of reach for the premier Catholic university in the country.
The most plausible – we think the only plausible – reason for the establishment of the new rule is faculty resistance to anything better. As we have noted before, a majority of the faculty opposes taking an applicant’s Catholicism into account at all. (See Baylor Study) The article by Dr. John McGreevy that we have circulated discloses the singular lack of enthusiasm for the Mission Statement that Father Miscamble reports is widespread.
While powerful elements of the faculty may carry the day, they have neither the right nor the authority to do so. That right and authority, as well as the responsibility, belong to the President, the Board, and the Fellows. (See Articles and Statutes)
We have urged Father Jenkins, and will urge the Board and the Fellows, to reexamine the consequences of the new hiring policy. We hope they will agree on reflection that the cost of faculty pacification – the progressive weakening and ultimate death of the Catholic soul of the University – is far too high. Their final decision will set the future course of Notre Dame, for the point of no return is finally here.[separator line=”yes”]