Bill Dempsey is a Notre Dame alumnus (’52) and chairs the Sycamore Trust, an association of Notre Dame alumni who are dedicated to renewing the University’s Catholic identity.
And despite all of the problems in recent years, he is hopeful.
“You bring these things to light, and good things happen,” Dempsey told The Cardinal Newman Society, sharing our commitment to exposing scandal while celebrating the best of Catholic education.
That simple approach has made the Sycamore Trust arguably the most successful alumni effort at a Catholic university.
The Trust got its start seven years ago, in response to The Vagina Monologues and University president Fr. John Jenkins’ decision to allow the vile play on campus. Thanks in part to the Trust’s efforts, there hasn’t been a performance at Notre Dame in recent years.
In 2011, when The Cardinal Newman Society exposed a Notre Dame trustee’s donations to pro-abortion groups, alumni of the Sycamore Trust called for Roxanne Martino’s resignation. She did just that, and another trustee criticized by the Trust for support of embryonic stem cell research declined to stay for a second term.
But it’s the faculty that is Dempsey’s greatest concern—and that’s where the Trust has had its greatest impact.
He points to Notre Dame’s mission statement—“one of the best that I’ve seen of any Catholic university”—which clearly acknowledges the importance of Catholic faculty to maintaining the University’s Catholic identity.
“It’s the heart of the University—who teaches, and what do they teach,” Dempsey said. “And that’s where we have serious problems.”
The Trust has repeatedly raised the alarm about faculty hiring at Notre Dame, revealing that the percentage of Catholic faculty declined from 85 percent in the mid-1970s to just 53 percent when the Trust was launched. “And it was headed south from there,” Dempsey said.
“Nobody knew about the faculty problem until we publicized it,” he said. And today, thanks to the Trust’s efforts, the problem has at least “leveled off.”
That’s because in response to the criticism, Notre Dame launched an aggressive effort to identify and recruit Catholic faculty. The University strives to fill positions with at least 50 percent Catholics, a policy that at least provides what Dempsey calls “a base that can be the foundation for the restoration of Notre Dame.”
Is it enough? Not nearly, he admits. It can’t replace the older, predominantly Catholic faculty who retire each year, and there’s no guarantee that the new Catholic hires are faithful.
But Dempsey can be proud of what he and his fellow alumni have achieved thus far, and their numbers are growing. The Trust’s recent event during Notre Dame’s alumni weekend attracted about 150 participants, with the same number listening online—the annual event’s largest turnout yet.
It’s evidence of how things can turn around, if faithful Catholics stick to it. We’ve seen how The Cardinal Newman Society’s report on pro-abortion internships funded by Notre Dame prompted the administration to launch a top-down review of its internship programs. And how Fr. Jenkins dropped his involvement with the United Nations’ “Millennium Promise” program after both The Cardinal Newman Society and The Sycamore Trust exposed the program’s advocacy for contraception in Africa.
“The principal asset that Notre Dame has is its reputation as a Catholic university,” Dempsey said. He and his fellow alumni believe that preserving that asset is worth the effort.
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