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Interview by Todd C. Ream and Brian C. Clark


Something So Good, We Want to Share It

A conversation with the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh

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As this kind of student involvement in service projects has grown, we decided that we needed a building worthy of their efforts. The building you'll see outside the window is costing $14 million, and it's already paid for. It's going to be open not only for student service activities but also for alumni, people who are giving time to others after graduation and are involved with things on campus. They can come back and meet there, and there are a number of faculty, of course, who get involved in these things—most of them have a faculty moderator. Now they will have a place where they can check their files, where they can have meetings, where they can have a snack if they want it. And again, to underline what I said earlier, there will be a beautiful chapel in that building—if they want to pray it's right there.

That building says what makes this university different from most great universities. Most of these service projects were started totally by the students, not by us. But we responded to their needs after they got going, and now they're going to have a building just for service to humanity. People have to learn that education is not just sucking in knowledge and getting better yourself, but giving back to society. It's apostolic in every sense of the word.

How did your aspirations for Notre Dame affect the experience of the average faculty member?

First of all it affects the kind of faculty member you engage to come here. In the old days all they had to do was teach. Today they have to both teach and do research. That's true across the board. It's obviously true in the sciences, but it's true also in the liberal arts, and we have a very large business training program here too. But, there's a kind of moral context which runs through it all, which isn't common to the world at large. I think it is very important that the great majority of this faculty not only take some part of the accepted knowledge in their subject and teach it to youngsters but also are involved in promoting the growth of that knowledge. In other words, they're doing research as well as teaching. When I started here everybody taught. I was given six classes to teach right away. Today they'd die if you gave them six classes, because every faculty member has a substantial part of his time given over to research for personal growth and the growth of the discipline he's involved in. So, it's a different kind of place today. If you don't do research, you don't get tenure. But that doesn't mean we undervalue teaching. If you're not a good teacher, you're not going to get tenure here, either.

What about issues of academic freedom?

I always believed there is academic freedom. Freedom, not just academic freedom, is a cornerstone of human existence. We're the only free creatures on earth. The others act by instinct or training, or whatever. But, we're free, and that's one of the greatest gifts God gives us, and you might say in a way that the Christian life is a way of directing your freedom to higher goals, beginning with God of course, but that filters down into human life in many dimensions. I think freedom is at the heart of so much of what we do. I'd say one of the greatest outlets for divine grace is to help an individual direct his free time to some good pursuit where he's not just doing something for himself but for others. And that's so important that the Good Lord Himself said, "Whatsoever you did for one of these my least brethren you did it for me." And that's, you might say, the capstone of all these efforts I'm talking about. That the Christian life is not sitting in a corner and praying—you know I do a little of that too—but it's also taking the good news which is at the heart of Christianity out to others who don't have it, or making it real in a life that is just perfunctorily Christian. So all of this, I think, gets into an educational system, and you have to put together a faculty that believes in this and is part of it and finds that a very rewarding thing. That should be, and to an extent is, at the heart of all Christian education—I don't just think of Catholic education. I think of the things you folks are doing, and it's something I appreciate. I think we can learn from each other, and that's why we've felt this is a very open place.

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