During his five years as President of Notre Dame College, Dr. Andrew P. Roth set in motion a tremendous growth cycle that is far from over. In an interview with alumnus Christian Taske, Roth talks about the College’s future in light of the current economic crisis.
It has been five years since your inauguration, a perfect time to reflect and take a look at what lies ahead in the next five years. In your inaugural address, you said a leader helps an institution discover its story and gives it purpose. How far along is Notre Dame on its “Voyage of Discovery” and how happy are you with what has been accomplished so far?
At the time I gave that speech, I said it would be exciting, rocky, at times a rollercoaster ride. It’s been all of those things. I also said it would be very rewarding and gratifying. We have made enormous progress in five years. We have a lot more to do. We have almost tripled enrollment, and more than doubled the size of the faculty. I am pleased with what we have accomplished. We have progressed very far, very fast. Certainly, for a number of people at the College, we have gone further than they ever thought we would, and we probably did it a lot faster than they are entirely comfortable with. That’s all part of culture change.
As Notre Dame grows and develops, we must be sensitive to its heritage, but not captive to its heritage; not captive of old ways. It’s a delicate balancing task—but the College’s future requires new ways of doing, new ways of being held accountable. It’s all a part of a natural process of growth and change.
The goal at Notre Dame isn’t simply to survive. The goal at Notre Dame isn’t simply to grow enrollment for the sake of enrollment, or to build a budget for the sake of a budget. A very wise person once said, “If the institution dies, the mission dies with it.” So, for a school like Notre Dame that doesn’t have a large endowment, the goal always has to be to ensure the institution’s survival. But that, in itself, is a paltry vision, a shallow goal. The really important question is why keep this institution alive? And that’s really Notre Dame’s story, beginning with the Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld, Germany, whose goal was to work with the women and children dislocated by the industrial revolution. Their goal has always been to work with those people who others may have missed. To work with those people who may not get the attention and services they need, and to give them an opportunity to earn a quality education. The institutional mission is not so much Notre Dame discovering its story, but rediscovering its historic roots. Then, to change, to modify, to grow, and to adapt those roots to the needs of the 21st century American culture and to the needs of 21st century global culture, because that’s our students’ world.
You are an Ohio native and often talk about expanding Notre Dame’s role as a member of the Northeast Ohio community. You also said you foresee Notre Dame as one of the finest, small Catholic colleges in the Great Lakes region. Explain what, if anything, the College is still missing to reach this goal, and what impact NDC can have on the region.
This region, and all of Ohio are under a lot of pressure. One of our goals is to be a Cleveland success story. I think we are becoming a Cleveland success story. We are a significant economic engine and contributor. We can be an exemplar; an institution that can show you how to succeed. We can be both an economically successful institution, and an institution doing “good work.” We are a really important part of South Euclid’s future. The mayor tells me we are South Euclid’s largest non-governmental employer. We have great potential to be South Euclid’s and Lyndhurst’s cultural mecca. A college is an extremely valuable entity for any community. We can become the community’s anchor. The inner-ring suburbs on Cleveland’s east side are under great stress. We and the other colleges and universities in the region can stabilize that. There’s a truism that real-estate values in a college community are greater than in non-college communities. A college is a valuable economic engine for a community to have. A company can move here with 50, 60 jobs, but you’re not really sure they are going to be here in 25 years. A college comes to a town, it’s not going anywhere. It’s here for the long-haul. NDC has already been in South Euclid for over 81 years!
Have local residents voiced concerns that because of Notre Dame’s growth the area is becoming a “college town?” If so, what do you tell them?
The neighbors and others have awakened to the fact that something has changed. There’s some natural towngown friction. For many years, this campus was a big, quiet, empty park. It’s really important for the neighbors and the community to understand that this big, empty, quiet, beautiful facility is no longer empty and quiet. It’s still beautiful and we’re working to make it more beautiful, but it’s no longer empty and quiet. Many of the neighbors say they are happy about this. For some others, there’s noise they never dealt with before. We will continue to work and help our students learn to be responsible neighbors. We are going to put together a community relations board of neighbors and civic leaders. We send out letters, we have set up a routine of emails, we work with the local media, we invite the neighbors to campus for events, and we try to really work with them as this all unfolds. Karen Poelking is our new Vice-President of Community Relations, and she is very busy!
Under your leadership, Notre Dame has experienced a tremendous academic growth. The College introduced an intelligence analysis and research program, criminal justice and nursing. The Academic Support Center offers comprehensive services for students with learning differences. How satisfied are you with the College’s academic growth over the past five years and do you plan to expand the curriculum in the future?
We have made great progress. The nursing program has been a real boon for the College, not only in the enrollment numbers. The nursing students are lifting the tone of the College. Nursing students have to perform to a certain level to stay in the nursing program, so every course is important. We are looking for other programs like nursing and like the intelligence/security studies program that are academically rigorous. We are currently looking at recruiting a faculty member to start a program in hospitality management. I am looking for some ideas coming out of the faculty in the traditional liberal arts about how we can grow their programs and how they can be sculpted to become more powerfully attractive. We have an outstanding set of faculty members in psychology.
We have other excellent faculty members in the humanities and other programs. We have a quality education department. We are trying to raise the whole academic tone. One of the things our initiatives in online education will do is put the students at the center of what we are trying to do. The use of technology will enrich the classroom experience. We have an initiative to develop textless courses using new media to deliver the course content. The two goals there are to save our students money on textbooks and to learn how to use new media. I am very interested in working with the science department on a pharmacy program or at least a partnership with some other schools. We are looking at new graduate programs, initially in education, but also one in organizational and women’s leadership and intelligence/security studies.
An expanded curriculum attracts more students and under your leadership enrollment has reached an all-time high. What are your enrollment goals in the next five years? And what are the challenges in growing responsibly?
By 2013 we want about 1,400 fulltime students of whom 750 to 900 reside on campus. We’d also like to build our non-traditional enrollment to 1,250 part time, adult and graduate students. We are working with our Center for Professional Development on a reinvigorated WECO by converting it into a fully-accelerated hybrid of face-to-face and online courses. We have hired a Dean of Online Education, Rob Davis, to begin Notre Dame Online, which we’d like to grow to 500 full-time equivalent students.
That’s a lot of growth. So, the real issue is how to manage that growth and not forget who we are. The current economic crisis threatens everything, but we have to deal with it. Growing responsibly is not outstripping your resource base. It’s also being attuned to the culture, although the culture is changing. It’s not the small, quiet, sleepy place it was when I came here. It’s not going back to that. It can’t and still survive.
How does the College cope with this rapid growth in terms of facilities and accommodation? And how does the College afford it during this economic crisis?
We have a very precise, very well-thought-out plan. The economic crisis is going to present us with some challenges and we have to figure that out. We are currently building two dorms to increase the residence capacity from about 360 to about 650. There will be another dorm somewhere on campus in the next five to 10 years. We have completely remodeled the library and the Administration Building to get eight more classrooms and offices. We have leased the second floor of a building down the street. Somewhere down the road in the next three to five years, we will need to either build or acquire an academic building. If we can figure out the fundraising, we would like to build a 40,000 to 50,000 square foot addition to the library. If we can turn that into an academic student center and library, we would have classrooms, a significantly expanded Tolerance Resource Center, adequate facilities for nursing and a significantly expanded Falcon Café. That would be the most desirable solution because it is here and has almost no impact on green space. We will look at increasing our athletic facilities. We will also endeavor to develop a theater and an expanded fine arts program.
That’s a lot of money. We will hire a Vice President of Development by January of ’09 and seek to expand our annual fundraising. We have been able to raise about $1.25 million a year on average. I’d like to grow that to $3.5 million and raise the annual fund by 2013 to $1 million a year. The academic center is a $15 million to $20 million project and we would like to do that with as little debt as possible. I am going to spend a great deal of time next year planning how we can do that. Obviously, the economy makes this more difficult, but we’ll move forward.
Many parents are worried that they won’t be able to pay for their children’s education. How do you plan to keep scholarship aid up and tuition costs down?
One of the things I will challenge our CFO to do is to take a look at our pricing. On average, Notre Dame students get $9,000 from Notre Dame. Some, but not much of that is underwritten by the endowment and gifts. Most of it represents the College reassigning operating money that it might have spent on faculty and staff, equipment and facilities, or on student life by discounting its tuition. We are looking at maybe cutting tuition. There are two schools of thought on that. Every school that has ever tried to cut tuition has questioned whether it is possible to really do this. Secondly, there’s a perception that if you’re not expensive you can’t be good, which, of course, is false. But it’s there.
A lot of people ask why tuition is high. Higher education is a craft industry. It’s still done more or less by hand. Maybe not one on one—nobody can afford that—but one on a few. Higher education doesn’t lend itself to economies of scale. The other thing is that no one wants to go to school and learn on outmoded equipment. If you have a nursing lab, it’s got to be state-of-the- art. If you teach computer or graphic design, it’s got to be what they are going to use. Incredibly expensive. Technology is a black hole into which you periodically throw money, but you never get caught up. Thirdly, people have to think about what they get. We are going to provide you a room, pay all your utilities, insurance, and 20 meals a week. You get access to a health center, lectures and movies. Oh, and by the way if you’re interested you can go to class and get an education. It’s expensive, but taking everything into account, it’s not as expensive as one might think.
Notre Dame is changing more than it ever has. While a tremendously exciting time, change can also raise uncertainty and fears. What other concerns do students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff raise? And how does the College address these concerns?
The faculty wants to be sure that we don’t compromise on academic values. We will work with the faculty to ensure that doesn’t happen. One of the proposals in the strategic plan is to create a dynamic new student success program, to expand the work of the Dwyer Center, to make sure that if we bring a student in we can look the parent and student in the eye and say we will do everything we can to make sure the student graduates and is prepared for a life of good work—work that is excellent, work that is ethical and socially responsible and work that is engaging and enjoyable.
Christian Taske ’07 graduated Notre Dame College with a BA in Communication. He also holds a Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia University.