National Catholic Reporter, The Independent, Lay-Edited Catholic Newsweekly

Irish fighting: Faculty denounces ND president

A controversy at the University of Notre Dame over a new theology professor, hired as a visiting professor by President Edward Malloy over the objections of the faculty, has brought tensions at the university into public view.

Following months of controversy, the university's Faculty Senate denounced the president's administrative style in a formal resolution adopted Dec. 3. Sources at the school say they can recall no precedent for such an action in a hiring dispute.

The disputed theologian, Fr. Michael Baxter, is a Holy Cross priest, as is Malloy. The Holy Cross order founded Notre Dame and maintains a special relationship with it, although the university is now operated by an independent board of trustees. Baxter is a former theology student at Notre Dame.

The resolution, passed 29 to 5 with three abstentions, contends that Malloy's "unilateral" action was detrimental to the theology department and the university as a whole. It "seriously erodes the confidence that a faculty ought to have in a president," the statement said. The resolution followed by three weeks a statement of concern from the school's theology faculty contending that Malloy's actions had violated collaborative process and undermined academic integrity of the department and the university.

Malloy said through a spokesman that he preferred not to comment on the matter. But spokesman Dennis Moore strongly defended Malloy's action. At issue, Moore said, is "a disagreement over the qualifications of the candidate. It was an academic decision on the part of the president that this person is eminently qualified to be appointed to the faculty and that the faculty's analysis of his credentials was incorrect."

It is accurate to say that the collaborative process had been undermined, Moore said. "But who is in error? The president's determination is that the evaluation of the candidate was in error."

However, Fr. Richard McBrien, chair of the Faculty Senate and former chair of the university's theology department, said Moore's decision to impose the candidate on the department represented a serious breach.

Moore said the controversy would have no ill effects on Malloy's position or on a capital campaign due to begin May 3. Malloy enjoys full support of the university's board of trustees, and the school's benefactors value highly the role of Holy Cross priests on the faculty, he said. Further, he said, Malloy was fully within his rights as president to overrule the faculty in a hiring matter.

Sources at the school offered this version of events leading up to the Dec. 3 action:

Early last year, Malloy proposed Baxter for the faculty. He holds a master of divinity degree from Notre Dame and a doctorate from Duke University. His dissertation there was directed by Stanley Hauerwas, a highly respected Christian ethicist.

Under an "affirmative action" plan at Notre Dame, Holy Cross priests get special consideration in hiring and need not be counted in a department's budgeted faculty allotment. Normally, however, Holy Cross candidates go through the usual hiring process.

Sources said it is unusual for a Holy Cross priest to be imposed on the faculty -- but that it is also unusual for a department to reject a Holy Cross priest outright.

In Baxter's case, the theology department's hiring committee and its chair, Lawrence Sullivan, had unanimously rejected him for an assistant professorship when Malloy proposed a compromise: that he be hired for a three-year term as visiting assistant professor. That proposal was also rejected.

Nevertheless, Baxter was hired as visiting professor. McBrien said that Malloy had failed to notify Sullivan that he was hiring Baxter.

The theology department issued its first statement on Nov. 11. Before issuing its resolution, the Faculty Senate met with Malloy in October. A transcript shows that Malloy refused to discuss the matter, but was willing to speak generally about the role of Holy Cross priests.

Baxter could not be reached for comment before press time.

One member of the senate, G. Robert Blakey, a law professor, wrote a 13-page dissent to the resolution. He argued that the group had rushed to judgment without undertaking a full investigation.

McBrien said the resolution would be posted on the university's Internet home page and had been the subject of a front-page story on Dec. 4 in The Observer, Notre Dame's daily student newspaper.