The "Soul of a University" story in the Spring 2004 issue may be one of the most important stories we’ve ever done.
It originated this past fall during a lunch conversation with the author, Anthony DePalma, a longtime New York Times correspondent who was here as a visiting scholar at Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute. I had planned to discuss his doing a piece for us on his areas of expertise (Latin America, Cuba), but I also wanted to know how his son, a Notre Dame senior, was doing. Aahren had had a terrible time with leukemia as a student here.
We talked a long time—mostly about Aahren and Notre Dame. DePalma had clearly been impressed and moved by Notre Dame’s compassion and care for his son. I told him I was glad to hear such good things about the place. This was the Notre Dame I believed in, I said, and it was reassuring to know it still touched lives the way it had touched mine so long ago.
I have worked here now for 26 years, long enough to see the human and the heart. I have listened to and participated in the debates about Notre Dame maintaining its Catholic character while aspiring to academic greatness, about the tension between teaching and research, about preserving a sense of family and community in a burgeoning corporate organization. I have listened to those so enamored of rankings and ratings, whose measures of success come from comparing Notre Dame to other places. And I have listened to those who look back at some favored past and think Notre Dame has been going downhill ever since.
Some are confidently intent on building a new and improved Notre Dame. Others wonder if their values and their way of doing things are threatened, out of fashion. There are those who want to bring the best of Notre Dame forward as the institution ventures ahead, helping Notre Dame be fully itself and not aspire to sameness. They are concerned that there is too much good here that risks being lost if we are not mindful of all those warnings about gaining the world and losing our soul.
There is a great deal at stake these days. There is little doubt the place has changed in recent years. That’s why this cover story is so important.
It’s important to put this stuff out on the table, to take it to the whole family, to have these conversations about what Notre Dame was, is and wants to become. Anthony DePalma offers a unique and valued perspective. He has covered higher education for The New York Times, he’s been a Notre Dame parent and has children at other schools, and he’s been on campus as a visiting professor and journalist, seeing the place for himself. His story is worth listening to.