Father Mark Poorman took the reins of the Office of Student Affairs on July 1, bringing a new face and a fresh enthusiasm to the high-profile job which deals with campus life and student concerns.
Poorman, who succeeds Patricia O’Hara — vice president for Student Affairs for nine years and now dean of the Law School — has been teaching theology and living in Notre Dame residence halls since 1990. He hopes this experience will prepare him well for the post he now holds.
“I’ve been close to the mission of Student Affairs for a long time doing a lot of different things,” said Poorman, who has taught, served as a rector and worked in Campus Ministry during his time at Notre Dame. “I feel really privileged to be able to serve in this capacity.”
The new vice president’s boss, University president Father Edward Malloy, cited Poorman’s diversity of experiences at Notre Dame as a strong point.
“Father Poorman has demonstrated his administrative acumen in a succession of key roles while deftly balancing these responsibilities with his academic pursuits,” Malloy said when announcing the appointment in April. Poorman will have to balance even more responsibilities in his new role.
As vice president for Student Affairs, Poorman will be responsible for Campus Ministry, student residences, residence life, multicultural and international student affairs, student activities, Notre Dame Security/Police, the University Counseling Center, University Health Services, career and placement services and alcohol and drug education.
He also will continue to teach one ethics class each semester.
Poorman expects the daily range of concerns the office deals with will present one of his greatest challenges.
“If you’ve got 10,000 people in your charge, and you’ve got to get them all the best education possible, I think that’s why it’s a challenging job,” he said. “It’s all of the education of a student that happens outside the classroom; that’s a huge purview.”
One of the things on which Poorman hopes to focus is the residential community at Notre Dame.
“One of the highest priorities I have is residentiality,” he said. “I want to keep this a residential, Catholic community, which is something very close to my heart.”
Poorman hopes to do this through both short and long term programs. Initiatives this semester will include a diversity training program to encourage students educate each other about sensitivity and minority issues and a continuing focus on social programming that is academic in nature and does not involve alcohol. The latter is a program that began under O’Hara, in which the University would help fund dorm events, such as SYRs, taking the focus off drinking.
Increasing diversity is another challenge Poorman hopes to take on in his new role.
“We have a ways to go on this campus with regards to diversity,” said Poorman. “Both statistically … and in programming.”
He complimented the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs on their efforts at educating the student population on diversity but acknowledged that such education works best in the day-to-day living of students.
“I’m really excited about this diversity education program because it works peer to peer, student to student,” he said. “It has as one of its major focuses to involve the majority population and that’s really where some of the attention has to be focused.”
Long-term ideas for perpetuating Notre Dame’s residential character, Poorman said, will develop as he learns the job and hears the concerns of more people on campus. He will start slowly and does not expect to make any major changes early in his tenure.
“In the coming year, I want to do a lot of listening to people, and getting the lay of the land,” he said. “After I do a lot of listening then I'll probably be setting a lot of my own priorities.”
Radical change from the policies of previous vice president for Student Affairs O’Hara is not a priority for Poorman. Quite the opposite, he praised his predecessor’s policies and expressed hope his administration would provide continuity.
Poorman does not anticipate big changes in the University’s policies on major campus issues.
He praised the efforts of the Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs to make Notre Dame a more welcoming place for homosexuals. He stated interest in working closely with student leaders on these issues and remains open to student suggestions and concerns.
Poorman will receive all resolutions passed by the Campus Life Council and will be a key decision-maker in many campus debates.
“I thoroughly enjoy our students ... I like living with them, I always have. I enjoy teaching them,” he said. “My door’s always open and I always want to hear new ideas.”
Poorman graduated from the University of Illinois in 1976 and received his Master of Divinity degree from Notre Dame in 1980. He was ordained a priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1982 and while in the seminary served as an assistant rector in Dillon Hall.
After ordination, he served as Dillon rector and associate director of Campus Ministry for three years before going to Berkeley, Calif. to earn a doctorate in Christian Ethics at the Graduate Theological Union.
In 1990 he returned to Notre Dame as a member of the theology faculty and lived in Grace Hall. In 1992 he began directing Notre Dame’s Master of Divinity program and is currently an associate professor of theology focusing on Christian ethics. He was an executive assistant to the president last year and received the Kaneb teaching award.