Key Events / Developments

“Let us ask again and again for wisdom and courage, the light to see and the strength to do what the times demand and the richness of our heritage promises.”  —Father Hesburgh, in Patterns for Educational Growth*

By the time he became President of the University of Notre Dame, Father Hesburgh, like his predecessor, recognized that raising the bar of academic excellence would only be achieved through multi-pronged efforts involving faculty, facilities, and the student body, and this would be accomplished through extensive fundraising and a good deal of reorganization.

Father Hesburgh began by putting new leaders in charge across the board. From deans of schools and colleges to directors of research projects and chairs of various departments, he removed those who were ill-suited to their positions and replaced them with leaders who would help move the University forward and improve the quality of the schools, colleges, and departments in which they worked.

With the institution of new administrators and grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation, the departments began to improve as new faculty were hired, new facilities were constructed, and new curricula were developed. In 1953, the Distinguished Professors Program was created to attract the top scholars in each academic area to Notre Dame. By the end of Father Hesburgh's time as President, more than 100 named distinguished professorships, each backed by at least $1 million, had been created.

In addition to reorganizing the leadership of the schools and colleges, Father Hesburgh changed the governing authority of the University from the Congregation of the Holy Cross to a two-tiered, mixed board of lay and religious trustees and fellows. Although at the time some questioned whether this change would make the University less Catholic, Father Hesburgh believed his decision was in line with Vatican II's support of including lay people in the leadership of Catholic affairs, and he received Vatican approval to make the change.

When a proposed merger between Notre Dame and neighboring Saint Mary's College, approved by the boards of both schools, was halted in November 1971, Notre Dame continued to pursue a course toward coeducation. It opened its doors to women undergraduates for the first time in school history in 1972. Some 365 women were enrolled that fall semester as the initial phase of implementing coeducation at the undergraduate level (women graduate students—mostly women religious—had been attending the University for decades). Making the University coeducational raised the standards of admission as its applicant pool doubled, and the percentage of female students increased over the years. Currently, about 47 percent of Notre Dame students are women.

From the time Father Hesburgh became President of the University in 1952 to the time he stepped down after 35 years in 1987, Notre Dame's annual operating budget had increased from $9.7 million to $176.6 million, its endowment from $9 million to $350 million, and its research funding from $735,000 to $15 million. Faculty and enrollment numbers also rose as financial matters improved: faculty jumped from 389 to 950 and total enrollment climbed from 4,979 to 9,600.

For more information on the key events and developments during Father Hesburgh's presidency, please see the following resources.

*Hesburgh, Theodore Martin.  Patterns for Educational Growth: Six Discourses at the University of Notre Dame. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1958. Print. Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, and Jerry Reedy. "Leading." God, Country, Notre Dame. New York: Doubleday, 1990. Print. Hesburgh, Theodore Martin, and Jerry Reedy. "The Catholic Laity." God, Country, Notre Dame. New York: Doubleday, 1990. Print. O'Brien, Michael. "Growth and Change, 1959–1967." Hesburgh: a Biography. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America, 1998. Print.

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