July 24, 1996
Professor Lawrence Cunningham
327 O'Shaughnessy Hall
I am responding to your letter of June 27, 1996, regarding my decision to appoint Michael Baxter, C.S.C., as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Theology Department for a three year period. I must say that I was disappointed when I received the file on Mike Baxter with the accompanying documentation from the Department and the Dean. My final decision to appoint Mike as a Visiting Assistant Professor was intended as a compromise. I chose to respect the opinion of those involved in the process who voted 'no' by not offering a regular faculty appointment. I took the unusual step of offering a visiting faculty appointment for three years for several reasons.
First, I am entrusted with primary responsibility as President and as a Fellow of the University to ensure that the Bylaws and Statutes are discharged faithfully and carefully. Statute V, Section (f) says "the University's operations shall be conducted in such manner as to make full use of the unique skills and dedication of the members of the Priests of Holy Cross, Indiana Province, Inc." This section of the Statutes then goes on to specify four traditional areas where Holy Cross priests can make a special contribution. The first two examples read thus, "1) the intellectual life of the University should at all times be enlivened and sustained by a devotion to the twin disciplines of theology and philosophy. They are viewed as being central to the University's existence and function. Here the role of the priest-professor can and should be a vital one. 2) It is important that members of the Holy Cross Community be active in as many academic roles at the University as their talents and training permit. The very presence of priest-scholars can add immeasurably to the total endeavor of the University and its essential Catholicity."
In a similar vein Recommendation 2 of the Colloquy for the Year 2000 states, "In the interest of sustaining and developing the Catholic character of the University, it is anticipated that the Congregation of Holy Cross will continue to emphasize academic careers and it is recommended that the University give special consideration in personnel decisions, consistent with prevailing standards of excellence, to the Congregation's unique role at Notre Dame."
It is my judgment that the University as an institution has publicly and consistently committed itself to affirmative action in the hiring of Holy Cross priests of the Indiana Province with a special obligation in the crucial disciplines of philosophy and theology. On its part, the Indiana Province has committed itself to the expensive and time demanding preparation of such candidates at the very best graduate programs. It is presumed, then, that the respective departments in the University will eagerly and openly pursue such candidates for possible hire when they have completed their degrees.
In the case of Michael Baxter I felt that he was not eagerly pursued.
Secondly, I am familiar with the history of the Department of Theology at Notre Dame from the time of my joining it in 1975. The Department has become a center of excellence and there is much to commend its faculty and programs. However, like all human groups, the Theology Department has had its share of disagreements about guiding philosophy, subdisciplinary direction, and personnel decision. Some of the more controversial discussions took place during the years when Mike Baxter was a participant in the M. Div. program at Notre Dame. The fact that his major professor and dissertation director at Duke University was a former member of our theology faculty, suggests that this factor may have had some influence on his reception as a potential faculty member at Notre Dame.
I felt that Mike was unfortunately connected, if only unconsciously, with certain disputes in the Department's previous history that minimized his own independent scholarly agenda.
Thirdly, in the case of Mike Baxter I was making a professional judgment about his scholarly and teaching credentials in my own subfield of theological ethics. I taught Mike when he was an M.Div. student. I have had frequent conversations with him about his scholarly interests and his work. I have read a representative cross-section of his published work.
While there are a number of methodological and substantive points about which we do not agree, I have no doubt about his abilities, the depth his training, or his potential to become an outstanding member of the Department. Precisely because he takes a different approach, I find the prospect of his joining our Department exciting.
I feel much more confident in my ability to make an informed judgment about Mike's professional credentials and personal attributes than I do in some other cases. In this regard, I simply do not agree with the assessment provided in the file.
With these three reasons in mind I believe that the three year visiting assistant professorship is an appropriate course of action. If the reservations that were expressed by some about Mike's appointment are borne out over the next three years, then he will not deserve a regular appointment. I am confident, however, that Mike will become a valued and respected member of the Department.
Larry, I have high regard for you and for the other members of the Department. I especially thank the members of the Appointments and Promotions committee for their hard work during the course of the year. In the vast majority of cases for hire and promotion that have taken place during your Chairmanship, I have readily sustained your personal counsel and the Committee's collective judgment. It is only because of the unusual circumstances surrounding this case which I have specified in this letter that I have taken a different position.
Larry, if you would like to discuss this matter further in person, I would be happy to do so.
(Rev.) Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C.