August 16, 2021
Dear Members of the Notre Dame Community:
As we look forward to the start of a new academic year, I welcome our new members, and welcome back those who have been away. I look forward to seeing you on campus. As we all gather again, I write about an important topic for our community.
Nearly a year ago I wrote a letter to the Notre Dame community announcing the creation of a Trustee Task Force on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The Task Force was appointed by the Chair of our Board, Jack Brennan, with my encouragement and full support. It was chaired by Byron Spruell, a member of the Board, and it included accomplished leaders from various fields. Its charge was to offer observations, assessments, and recommendations that would help Notre Dame become more fully the community our mission calls us to be, focusing on the experiences of those from underrepresented minority groups, students from low-resourced backgrounds, and first-generation students. Our hope was that the Task Force would bring perspectives and offer recommendations that would augment and amplify the work that the University’s senior leadership team—in partnership with many others on this campus—has undertaken on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the past year, and indeed over many years.
The Task Force produced an excellent report, which was presented to the full Board in June and can be found here. Although the Task Force members are busy professionals with extensive responsibilities of their own, they generously devoted time for meetings with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others. On behalf of the whole Notre Dame community, I want to thank the Task Force for their superb work and Jack Brennan for convening the group.
The report offers us an invaluable strategic framework that calls us to focus on long-term, sustainable progress, rather than a checklist of specific action items that might result in short-term outcomes. It offers the following elements of a strategic framework:
1. Increase representation
2. Strengthen a culture of inclusion and belonging
3. Hold ourselves accountable
4. Be a force for good in the world
5. Commit adequate resources
These elements and the report’s observations and suggestions will enhance and invigorate the work already underway so that we can make substantive progress in becoming more the community we want to be. I pledge myself to this effort, and I call on the whole Notre Dame community to join me.
As the report indicates, many students, faculty members, and staff have expressed dissatisfaction with the climate for diversity and inclusion. The challenge here relates to demographics of representation of individuals from various groups, but perhaps the greater concern is that members of certain groups do not feel as welcome or “at home” as others. At Notre Dame, where we take pride in the sense of community on campus, we must do all we can to ensure that every member of this community feels themselves fully a part of that community. If we do, we will be a better home for all of us.
Our Catholic mission is an invaluable source of guidance and inspiration in this regard. We certainly resonate with the call for racial justice and inclusion in the wider society, but we also bring to the conversation the vision, values, and commitments that define our University. We affirm the dignity of every human person along with the rights corresponding to this dignity, and we believe these do not depend on a person’s nationality, their racial or ethnic group, or their social or economic class, but arise from the fact that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. We recognize a call to make a “preferential option for the poor,” where “the poor” includes anyone who is marginalized or less privileged.
Solidarity is a central notion in Catholic social teaching that captures the sort of community we strive to be at Notre Dame. It suggests at the same time our dependence on and need for one another in a genuine community, but also our responsibility to care for the well-being of others. As St. John Paul II wrote, living in solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is, the good of all and of each person, because we are all really responsible for all.” At Notre Dame, because we strive to be a community that lives in this kind of solidarity with others, racism, bigotry, and unjust exclusion of any kind are inimical to our central principles.
The Task Force Report offers many valuable and important recommendations across various dimensions of University life, and I have asked the respective leaders and their divisions to make demonstrable progress toward the goals the report articulates. We will monitor, and periodically report to you on our progress. Indeed, already underway are a number of significant initiatives, which I summarize below.
The commitment and effort I have seen so far give me confidence that we can respond vigorously to the recommendations and aspirations contained in the report. There is, however, much more to be done. There can be no doubt that the real and lasting change we seek is not the work of a month or a year, but of a longer period in the life of the University. Our commitment must be for the long term, so that the change we seek will last. As we begin a new academic year, I ask each of you to help us live up to our highest ideals, making this community, rich in diversity, ever more one characterized by mutual respect, care for one another, and solidarity.
In Notre Dame,
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
Key Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives Currently Underway
As noted above, here is a partial list of the key DEI initiatives currently underway. Some emerged as priorities as a result of the Task Force Report issued in June 2021, while others reflect the University’s sustained investment and effort over a longer period of time.
- Welcoming and supporting our most diverse incoming class of undergraduates, and enhancing recruitment of diverse graduate students
The Task Force Report calls us to “increase representation” of students from underrepresented minority groups, from lower-income families and of first-generation students (a student whose parents did not complete a four-year college degree). As the report notes, in October 2019 Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees approved a plan to establish a goal to admit 15% Pell-eligible students (from lower-income families) and an additional 5% first-generation students (who are not in the Pell-eligible cohort). The Board approved the equivalent of a $200 million endowment fund for the initiative with the intention to reach these goals for the first-year class by 2024–25, and for all our undergraduate classes by 2027–28.
Thanks to the good work of our Office of Undergraduate Admissions, as well as the generosity of benefactors who provide financial aid resources, we look forward to welcoming an incoming class of which 14% are Pell-eligible and 12% are first-generation students (4% of the first-generation students are not Pell-eligible). These are all-time highs for Notre Dame both for Pell-eligible and for first-generation students.
Among domestic students, we expect the incoming class to be 8.7% African American, 12.7% Hispanic/Latino, 0.6% Native American, and 10.3% Asian/Hawaiian-Pacific Islander. 7.3% are international students. Our incoming class as a whole will be composed of 38.8% students of color or international students, making it the most racially and ethnically diverse in the University’s history.
For our doctoral and master’s programs, we will welcome an incoming class of graduate students with these demographics: 1.6% African American, 10.5% Hispanic/Latino, 0.24% Native American, 4.0% Asian/Hawaiian-Pacific Islander, and 32.0% international. For our domestic graduate students, 4.5% are from low-income backgrounds and 9.5% are first-generation. Because admissions decisions are overseen by graduate programs and colleges, the process of increasing diversity and supporting our students is multifaceted. I have tasked Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Laura Carlson and Provost Marie Lynn Miranda to develop an ambitious plan.
We must ensure that these incoming students, and indeed all of our students, find a home at Notre Dame and have the support needed to flourish. Under the leadership of Provost Miranda and Vice President and Associate Provost Hugh Page, we are establishing Transformational Leaders, an umbrella program to serve students from low-resourced backgrounds. It will help provide tailored and intensive advising, paid research placements, internships, pre-matriculation programming, mentorship, summer school support, and support for emergent situations. It will be housed in the Main Building to provide “one-stop shopping” in a central location, and to highlight the importance of this initiative.
Though the progress is encouraging, we must build on these admissions patterns and work to ensure an environment at Notre Dame where all students can grow and thrive.
- Student Life: Creation of a diversity and inclusion student center in LaFortune
The report identified the need for a “space on campus where underrepresented students can gather.” We are pleased to announce that we have received generous benefactions for the construction of a visible and inviting space for this purpose in LaFortune Student Center. I will augment these gifts as necessary with discretionary funds, available through the generosity of the members of our President’s Circle. The center will house the Multicultural Student Programs and Services office, the Gender Relations Center, and the Office of Student Enrichment, and will continue to work toward an environment where all are welcome and can flourish. Fr. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C., and his team in the Office of Student Affairs will begin formulating plans for this space soon.
- Recruiting and Retaining Diverse Faculty
The report identifies “recruitment of diverse faculty as a top University priority.” Of the tenured and tenure-track faculty hired in the past year who indicated their race, 48% were persons of color and 23% were underrepresented minorities. Of the non-tenured or tenure-track faculty hired, an additional six were Asian American and two were Black. Moreover, thanks to proactive efforts, we did much better at retaining faculty who are persons of color. These numbers reflect a very strong year for diversity hiring.
I want to thank our deans and faculty for their efforts in making these hires, and particularly Provost Miranda, who has made diversity hiring a priority.
For faculty, as for our students, we can be proud of the progress we have made, but we still have much more work to do. Again, though encouraged by the results of the past year, we must remain committed to continued progress.
- Staff: Supporting the hiring of diverse staff and fostering a “speak up” culture
With regard to staff, the report encourages “hiring and promoting more diverse managers, and fostering a ‘speak up’ culture.” We have instituted a process by which hiring managers partner with human resources to ensure that exempt interview pools meet or exceed the diversity percentage based on market availability data. We also recently added a new role, Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager, within our human resources team to assist with the recruitment and retention of diverse staff, training and fostering a supportive campus climate.
We are also re-launching a program, Living Notre Dame’s Values, which was put on hold during the pandemic. It will be designed to ensure a culture in which all are respected, are treated fairly, and feel safe to speak up to express views and concerns.
- Conducting a comprehensive inventory of DEI Programs and Initiatives
The report recommends a “University-wide inventory of all current diversity programs and initiatives,” and I have asked our Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research to undertake such an inventory. The results from that inventory will be reviewed by our Executive Diversity Council (see below), and will inform our strategic planning process. As the Task Force pointed out, such an inventory will highlight the wide-ranging efforts underway as well as help us to identify opportunities for greater collaboration, share best practices and resources, and scale up those programs and practices that could have transformative impact.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Strategic Planning Process
The Task Force calls for “the creation of a University-wide diversity plan—building on the framework we offer in this action plan and formulated as part of the University’s upcoming strategic planning process.” The University’s strategic planning process, which we undertake every 10 years, develops a broad plan for progress on the University’s central goals. In the process we will conduct in the coming year, we will identify several themes that span colleges, schools, and administrative divisions, and one of these will be the theme of diversity and inclusion. Work on this theme will provide an opportunity to develop a diversity plan, in accord with the Task Force’s framework.
- Central Administration Oversight
To ensure greater accountability, the Task Force Report recommends establishing “a structure that will ensure University-wide oversight and central leadership for the growing number of diversity and inclusion initiatives at the University.” Prior to the completion of the inventory of current programs described above and the formulation of a new University-wide strategic plan, it would be premature to put in place a permanent structure for oversight. For at least the coming year, I will create an Executive Diversity Council, which I will chair and which will include, Provost Miranda, Executive Vice President Shannon Cullinan, and a small number of faculty, students, and staff. I will announce soon the composition of this council. The council will meet periodically during the year, and its purpose will be to review the steps we are taking in response to the report, to study the various initiatives underway and ensure coordination and effectiveness, to identify any gaps or shortcomings that exist, and to offer advice to the executive leadership team. At the end of the coming academic year, we will review the work of this council and adapt or seek a different structure.
- Board Oversight
The report recognizes the critical role the Board of Trustees has to play and recommends that “the University’s executive officers offer regular progress reports to the Board focusing on key metrics of success.” The Board will indeed receive and review such reports. In addition, the Chair of Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees, Jack Brennan, has asked that interim reports be given to the Board’s Executive Committee, and he has created a subcommittee of the Executive Committee to provide oversight of work on diversity, equity and inclusion. Mr. Brennan has appointed Byron Spruell, who served as the chair of the Trustee Task Force, to lead this subcommittee. We welcome the shared ownership and leadership of our Board for these critically important initiatives.