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  • Realizing the Distinctive University: Vision and Values, Strategy and Culture by Mark William Roche
  • James L. Heft SM
Realizing the Distinctive University: Vision and Values, Strategy and Culture. By Mark William Roche. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017. 288pp. $25.00.

Mark William Roche, the Reverend Edmund P. Joyce, CSC, Professor of German Language and Literature and concurrent Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, served as its Dean of Arts and Letters from 1997–2008. Realizing the Distinctive University is the third book in which he explores the mission of a Catholic university. His first, a slim volume, The Intellectual Appeal of Catholicism and the Idea of a Catholic University (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003) argues for the intellectual richness of the Catholic tradition. His Why Choose the Liberal Arts (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010) makes a compelling and common sense case for studying the liberal arts. His Realizing the Distinctive University explains in details how, in administrative terms, he worked to deepen Notre Dame’s distinctive identity.

In my judgment, everyone involved in Catholic higher education would benefit from paying close attention to three of his key points. [End Page 106] First, he argues that an academic leader must have a distinctive and appealing vision. After a year at Notre Dame, he identified three components, that taken together, constitute Notre Dame’s identity: “at one and the same time a residential liberal arts college with a traditional emphasis on student learning; a research university that had become increasingly dynamic and ambitious; and a Catholic institution of international standing” (64). Throughout his tenure as dean he repeated this three-fold vision. Unlike “many Catholic universities” that had “lost their distinctive vision,” Notre Dame, he believed, had not (65). Three popular efforts to capture distinctiveness—liturgies, campus ministry and retreats; community service; and Catholic Studies programs—do not, in Roche’s view, supply a sufficiently compelling vision.

Second, it is impossible to realize and strengthen this vision without careful attention to hiring faculty. He often had to oppose the view that hiring for mission adds an additional burden, especially when search committees thought they already had to hire both the most academically strong candidates and increase diversity. Upon arriving at Notre Dame, Roche found that “most faculty of were uneasy speaking about Notre Dame’s Catholic character. They wanted to hide it or downplay it” (73). Gradually, Roche persuaded many of the faculty that Notre Dame’s Catholicism was an advantage in hiring. He articulated that advantage in this way:

I proposed that we suggest to prospective colleagues—with confidence and excitement—that Notre Dame is an international institution with a strong sense of community; that many of our disciplines study social justice issues and our students are unusually committed to service and the welfare of others; that the university places great emphasis on philosophy, theology and the humanities; that our students have an existential interest in the spiritual implication of their studies and see learning as related to the development of character; that we seek to offer students an integrative experience; and that we value teaching and research equally


He argued that ads for faculty positions state explicitly that Notre Dame is a Catholic university. If universities hire only for diversity, they become internally the same, and distinctiveness between institutions disappears.

Third, academic leaders need courage. Sometimes Roche found it necessary to take away lines from a department, demand differential raises, and overturn recommendations for weak hires and weak promotion and tenure cases. Despite faculty resistance, the culture gradually changed (112–113). Leaders are too often risk-adverse [End Page 107] because they would like to return to a faculty that likes them, or avoid controversy in order move up in administration or move on to another university. When Roche returned to the faculty, he was welcomed—no small achievement.

Mark Roche is an unusually talented and demanding academic leader. But is what he accomplished only possible at a place like Notre Dame? When the reader learns that during his eleven years as dean, he added more than eighty funded faculty positions, including well over fifty endowed chairs, with...


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