What's the world's greatest Catholic school to do?
In 1988, Notre Dame's endowment was valued at $453 million. Today, the endowment value exceeds $9 billion. Under the direction of Scott Malpass, endowment investments have enjoyed a 11.9% trailing rate over the last decade, virtually unmatched among American university endowments. We also have the second most profitable athletic department in the country.
Notre Dame is the preeminent Catholic university in the world, the academic face of the grandest institution in human history. The magnificence of the Church inspires awe, but also stands in contrast to its founding by a man born homeless. Its popes share a common ancestor with the vagrants and immigrants who fish the inner harbors of Lake Michigan, a lesson clearly not lost on the current Pontiff.
Notre Dame searches for its own balance. Students and families paying $50,000 per year want top faculties, facilities, and technology. They want air conditioning and nice rooms. The blessings of the poor rest more comfortably in the heart than the back.
Notre Dame's administrators and trustees cannot afford to bend their ears in only one direction. Notre Dame cannot compete for top students or top student-athletes without competitive resources. And so, from time to time, Notre Dame must change. A new dining hall opened in 1957; fifty years later, South Dining Hall underwent an overhaul. New dorms and even quads have emerged, as has a new business school facility, a beautiful new law school building, and 20,000 extra seats supported by a new football-stadium facade.
Each change came with some answers and more questions: do we need this, can we afford this, what are we gaining, what are we losing, what are we becoming.
And a final question: who are we serving. This is the one question that carries more weight at Notre Dame than anywhere else. We are not a state school, and waste at ND will not spur the same taxpayer outrage as waste at the University of Illinois. But our line of report has no ceiling, and we have to ask and answer these questions with that in mind. Does ND have an obligation to improve the lives of the poor and middle class? Is it meeting that obligation? Are we in line with other private and public schools in real accessibility? Is that the standard we want to meet?
Back to 1988. Tuition and fees that year were about $10,000. Costs have increased, salaries have increased, and tuition has increased just over five-fold. And the endowment is twenty times what it was then. I don't understand all of the pressures ND is under, and I don't even try to answer the questions I've asked here. I just know we mirror both the splendor and the tension of the Church itself as we grow. We talk a lot about these things, but I believe the questions of who we serve and how well we're doing it are very important and always relevant.