Elected in 2005 as the University of Notre Dame’s 17th president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., has devoted himself to fostering the University’s unique place in academia, the Church, our nation and the world. A philosopher trained in theology and a member of Notre Dame’s Department of Philosophy since 1990, Fr. Jenkins earned undergraduate and advanced degrees from Notre Dame, a doctorate of philosophy from Oxford University, and a master of divinity and licentiate in sacred theology from the Jesuit School of Theology.
As president, Fr. Jenkins has been committed to combining teaching and research excellence with a cultivation of the deeper purposes of Catholic higher education. While pursuing academic distinction, he has brought renewed emphasis to Notre Dame’s distinctive mission, rooted in the tradition of the Congregation of Holy Cross, the University’s founding community, to educate the whole person – mind, body and spirit – to do good in the world.
These commitments have been made manifest in the University’s dedication to excellence in undergraduate education in the classroom and beyond, while simultaneously building a reputation as a preeminent research institution – all in the context of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
Construction of new academic buildings and residence halls as well as other investments in the University’s infrastructure, scholarly programs and international reach during Fr. Jenkins’ tenure have helped Notre Dame to solidify its stature as one of the nation's best universities, and to advance his vision of making it “one of the preeminent research institutions in the world, a center for learning whose intellectual and religious traditions converge to make it a healing, unifying, enlightening force for a world deeply in need.”
As a result of these efforts, Notre Dame has been highly competitive in recruiting the best students, faculty and staff and in attracting more than $141 million last year in outside research funding. Recent research initiatives include the development of the Notre Dame Turbomachinery Laboratory, a public-private partnership that studies and test new gas turbine engine technologies; using nanotechnology to address climate change and post-silicon computer technology; and nuclear physics research on the evolution of our cosmos. On a global scale, two Notre Dame biologists are leaders of a $23 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in the fight against malaria and dengue fever.
By identifying and implementing cost efficiencies and budget reprioritizations in units across the campus, Notre Dame has been able to redirect savings to other academic priorities. One such initiative is the plan over the next few years to hire more than 80 additional faculty in research areas of recognized excellence, including nuclear physics, analytical sciences and engineering, nanotechnology, computational data science and engineering, and economics.
Fr. Jenkins has also strengthened Notre Dame’s relationship with the South Bend community in tangible ways, including leadership in the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative, which brought $42 million to the three-county region for economic development projects; supporting and staffing the Robinson Community Learning Center, a learning center and gathering space for the community near campus; construction of the $225 million mixed-use commercial and residential Eddy Street Commons; and the expansion of the Idea Center at Innovation Park where technology-driven research helps to create jobs locally. Notre Dame’s economic impact locally amounts to approximately $2.5 billion annually and the direct and indirect employment of some 16,700 people.
In the 2017-18 academic year, Notre Dame completed the largest construction project in its history with the opening of the 770,000 square-foot Campus Crossroads Project, in which leading-edge teaching, research, student life, hospitality, performance and digital technology buildings were built on the exteriors of Notre Dame’s iconic football stadium. The additions have brought students, faculty and others engaged in scholarly, artistic and athletic pursuits in close proximity while optimizing underutilized space to preserve the pedestrian character of the Notre Dame campus. Among many other campus construction projects, Notre Dame in the fall of 2017 opened Jenkins and Nanovic Halls, the new home to the Keough School of Global Affairs and the Departments of Sociology, Political Science and Economics.
All of these advances, Fr. Jenkins said, “would not be possible without outstanding students and faculty, the skill and dedication of our executive team, the guidance of our trustees, along with their generosity and that of alumni and other friends, as well as the careful stewardship of our resources.”
Recognizing the high cost of education, the University under Fr. Jenkins’ leadership has continued to increase financial aid, providing financial assistance to attend Notre Dame to students with demonstrated need. Fifty-six percent of undergraduate students received institutional financial assistance last year. The average award was $35,600, which represents 69 percent of tuition and fees.
Under Fr. Jenkins’ leadership, Notre Dame has increased the diversity of its student population, achieving the highest percentage of students from underrepresented groups in the University’s history. He leads the President’s Oversight Committee on Diversity and Inclusion in order to sustain focus on this important issue across the University.
During Fr. Jenkins’ tenure, Notre Dame’s storied athletic programs have won five NCAA championships while it is routinely ranked as the top school in Division I college athletics in graduating its student-athletes.
Within the University and beyond, Fr. Jenkins has called for civil discourse – grounded in the Christian view of others as equally made in the image of God – as a way to find common ground rather than demonize those with a different opinion. In a speech at Emory University in 2011, he said, “If we choose to attack our opponents before we have taken the time to understand them, if we prefer denunciations to genuine dialogue, if we seek political victory rather than constructive compromise … we will not be able to find solutions to the problems before us.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that sponsors and produces all U.S. presidential and vice presidential debates, cited his leadership on this issue in electing Fr. Jenkins to its board of directors in 2011.
Prior to assuming the presidency, Fr. Jenkins was vice president and associate provost of Notre Dame. A recipient of a Lilly Teaching Fellowship in 1991-92, he is the author of the book Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas, and of numerous scholarly articles published in The Journal of Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy and Theology, and the Journal of Religious Ethics. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010, and a year later appointed to the Academy's Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is dedicated to the advancement of teaching and research in these disciplines. A popular teacher, he has taught courses on ancient and medieval philosophy, faith and reason, and Thomas Aquinas.
Fr. Jenkins was appointed to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities board of directors in February 2006 and served through January 2012, when his term ended. He is a recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, awarded to those demonstrating outstanding qualities in their personal and professional lives, while maintaining the richness of their ethnic heritage. He was also the 2009 recipient of the American Irish Historical Society's Gold Medal, and in 2015 he received the Spirit of Francis National Award from Catholic Extension for supporting and encouraging future leaders of the Catholic Church throughout his career.
Fr. Jenkins holds honorary degrees from Benedictine College (2006), the University of San Francisco (2010) and Aquinas College (2011).
In 2019 the University’s Board of Trustees elected Fr. Jenkins to a fourth five-year term as president.