Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Originally published in Inside Higher Ed

At religiously affiliated universities, professors tackle the issue of income inequality.

A recently released annual ranking of colleges and universities that produce the most billionaires was hardly surprising. The list included top American institutions with the most selective business schools; Ivy League institutions dominated.

The rankings have remained largely consistent over the years even as the income gap between the rich and poor has widened in the United States. Yet news stories about the institutions that churned out the future billionaires made no mention of this contradiction. The articles were largely laudatory of the financial success of graduates but provided no information about alumni leading socially conscious companies, or working in meaningful jobs where the gap between the highest and lowest paid employees was moderate.

While ranking the rich and famous is common practice in the movie and music industries and is considered innocuous, some scholars are dismayed that similar measurements of wealth have seeped into academe. They worry about the long-term effects the celebratory prism in which rankings of billionaire alumni are presented and sometimes viewed may have on higher ed—and on students.

“I feel a lot of discomfort with the unabashed celebration of schools bragging about the billionaires they produce,” said Daniel Graff, a labor historian and professor of practice at the University of Notre Dame and director of an interdisciplinary program at its Center for Social Concerns. “It seems to undermine what we’re trying to do in the classroom, which is helping our students form critical perspectives on power and wealth.”

The fixation on the wealth of graduates is occurring as income inequality in the United States “has been growing markedly by every major statistical measure for some 30 years,” according to, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

“We’re living in an era of perverse extremes between wealthy people and everyone else,” Graff said. “I guess it’s the new gilded age.”

Graff and other academics are increasingly debating how their institutions—especially business schools that produce future executives, entrepreneurs and innovators—should respond and what role they should play in addressing and redressing income equality.

“It seems distasteful to brag about billionaires in era when higher education is relying more and more on billionaires,” he said of the increased reliance on donations from rich philanthropists whose names are then emblazoned on campus buildings. “I’d be interested to see where Notre Dame fits on that list. I have to admit it would be nice if it didn’t appear on that list.”

Notre Dame did not appear in the list of top 10 so-called Billionaire Alma Maters, and neither did several other religiously affiliated universities with well-regarded business schools. But it did make the cut in the top 20 University Ultra High Net Worth Alumni Rankings of 2017. It was ranked 16.

According to the Wealth-X, a self-described “leading global wealth information and insight business” that does the annual rankings, Notre Dame has 277 “known” alumni with a combined wealth of $44 billion. Notre Dame's figure pales in comparison, however, to Harvard University, which was ranked first on the list and has 1,906 known alumni with a combined wealth of $811 billion.

Nonetheless, religiously affiliated business schools appear to be taking the lead in incorporating income inequality as an area of academic inquiry in curriculum and course offerings, seminars, conferences, and community outreach and engagement programs. Their efforts often align with religious social teachings about community service and learning.

Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and the University’s Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership cosponsor an annual “Ethics Week” lecture series on themed topics every February. Income inequality will be the theme for 2019.

Bill Novelli with students“I think there is a great deal of attention being paid to social inequality at a great many universities,” said Bill Novelli, a professor in the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University. “We have these Jesuit values, and the principal value we have here is ‘men and women in service to others.’ If you’re going to have that as your leading value, it’s going to lead you to focus on social inequality.”

Selma Botman, provost of Yeshiva University, voiced similar sentiments about Yeshiva’s Sy Syms School of Business.

“We know that people in the business world are confronted with difficult situations all the time and that our graduates will face them, too,” she said. “If we teach them a high level of integrity and to conduct business using Jewish principles of justice, humanity, compassion, and service to others, then we’re giving our students the tools to be successful in the business world, in the community, and in their family life.”

Still, Graff, who was director of undergraduate studies at Notre Dame for 15 years, is concerned that the increased focus on wealth creation could lead students to view poverty as an unfortunate but acceptable aspect of society.

One of the projects he initiated at the Center for Social Concerns is the Just Wage Working Group, a collaboration of faculty, staff, and students to explore workplace issues such as the well-being of workers, discrimination, pay issues and human resource practices as a way of measuring and determining what is a “just wage.”

“My hope is by asking that question that people who are comfortable with their wages see themselves as connected to other people’s wages,” Graff said, adding that high-wage earners should understand the link between their wages and those of low-wage earners. “One of the key things we’re trying to confront is income inequality. Everyone should be invested in people making a living wage.”

Graff tries to incorporate these concepts in the labor courses he teaches.

“An important part of my job is to try to humanize the labor part, the human being who performs the labor,” he said.

The working group held a symposium in Washington in June to introduce and discuss the framework for measuring a just wage. It was attended by scholars and students from various colleges and fields, labor movement activists, worker advocacy groups, and lawmakers. The group hopes to develop an online tool next year that can be used by workers, employers and community members to show how just a wage is.

At Georgetown, Novelli teaches corporate social responsibility, an elective graduate course, and is one of four professors who co-teach Principled Leadership in Business and Society, a cross-disciplinary course required for all M.B.A. students. He also heads the business school’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative, which partners students with corporations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and career professionals to find solutions to pressing social problems and bring measurable, large-scale and lasting change.

Novelli said 45 students currently participate in the program, which is a small portion of the 996 full-time and evening-class M.B.A. students who were enrolled last spring.

“A lot of students come here and want to go to Wall Street and work at Goldman Sachs and make money,” Novelli said. “It’s true of business students here and everywhere. But we want all the students to leave here with the understanding of the importance of more than one bottom line. We want them to understand that they have social and environmental responsibilities and that that’s compatible with the profit motive.

“It’s not a hard sell,” he said. “They understand it, they believe in it, and they’re game.”

At Yeshiva, these lessons are incorporated across academic disciplines and departments, not necessarily in specific courses focused on income inequality, Botman said.

“We’re not just a university with a business school,” she said. “We train teachers and social workers, psychologists, speech-language pathologists. Our students are bringing to their profession an integrity that emanates from Jewish values.”

For instance, Business as a Human Enterprise, a required course for all first-year honors undergrads in the business school and taught by a Harvard-trained Ph.D. who is also a rabbi, examines the varied roles of business in a democratic society, including corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship.

Other undergraduate courses include Social Inequality, Law and Society, and Intermediate Macroeconomics, which examines global inequality across countries. A Labor Economics course focuses on inequalities in human capital, education and wage determination. There’s even an epidemiology course that considers the role of income inequality in health care. The school of social work and the graduate school of psychology also embed discussions about income inequality in their courses, Botman said.

“We don’t believe this issue is an add-on,” she said. “This is core to religiously affiliated institutions, not just us.”

The challenge is engaging students in the search for solutions.

“There’s three ways to go about this,” Novelli said. “One way is to have specific courses, extracurricular activities, seminars and special events focused on income inequality. Another way is to have it as a subject spread throughout the academic program. The third way is to have a hybrid and do both, and that’s what’s happening here and I think more broadly at other universities as well.”

Novelli says poverty and income disparity are subjects that come up often on campus.

“I hear about it both from faculty and students. I think people are concerned about it,” he said. “In our day-to-day conversations, in preparing for classes, in selecting cases to study, we do talk about it.”

Matt WoodMatt Wood, a second-year M.B.A. student at Georgetown, concurred with that assessment.

“Just within the curriculum, the professors are often trying to bring up those issues” and encouraging students to be “thinking beyond net present value and profit and thinking about the social implications of business decision making,” he said.

Wood cited a finance class that is a core part of the M.B.A. curriculum as an example.

“When you think about finance, it’s not normal to think about how to use finance to close income inequality,

” he said. But professors use case studies to show how to do just that. For instance, one case study was about growing the income of rural coffee farmers in Africa by providing them access to markets.

“It’s a holistic approach,” Wood said.

That approach was what drew him to Georgetown. He previously worked for a company that did nonprofit and fund-raising strategy consulting for religious institutions and health-care organizations. He also did small business advising and entrepreneurship training as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua.

“One of the core things I was looking for was business-driven impact and people who are social minded,” he said. “Georgetown kind of checked every box.”

Key among those checked boxes was the campus chapter of Net Impact, a national nonprofit organization for students and professionals who want to use their business skills to support or work on social and environmental causes.

The chapter has a social impact internship fund to help support students working in unpaid “mission-driven” internships. It raised $35,000 to support 10 students this summer.

Charlice Hurst, an assistant professor of management at Notre Dame, said the demands of business school don’t always allow students to easily link their academic pursuits with their socially conscious aspirations.

“There are offsetting messages that kind of contradict the social consciousness message,” Hurst said, noting that business students are repeatedly taught that their primary focus should be on increasing the wealth of their shareholders.

“In finance class that beats out any conversation about income inequality,” she said.

Hurst, a professor in the business school’s Department of Management & Organization, teaches a graduate-level course on social innovation where students are taught how to positively influence society, whether they’re employed at large corporations, nonprofits or running their own businesses.

She said she incorporates the subject of income inequality in her courses “to try and get students to understand how it can affect the operations of their business.”

Fourteen students took the class last semester, a number of them law students.

“It’s hard to even get them to take the class,” she said, noting that those who did take the class loved it. “They have to build up their schedules with classes that make them more employable.”

Hurst said course-load demands sends the message that the university “is not interested in creating social enterprise,” and instead signals “Go get rich so you can then help society.”

“It’s just sad to see super-talented students who are really excited about doing positive things in the world saying, ‘I can’t do anything until I get rich,’” she said.

Balancing the desire to make money with the desire to do good is a conflict many students experience.

“I have students coming to me all the time to talk about this,” Novelli said. “They say, ‘I have student debt. I want to pay it off and I want to make a good living. But I also want to stay engaged. I don’t want to lose this sense of purpose and social responsibility.’”

Hurst said these competing interests are the reasons that most business school students don’t leave college with the idea of tackling income inequality foremost on their minds.

“I think most of them come away with a kind of conventional thinking about business [being] in service of creating more wealth for shareholders,” she said, and that “social responsibility can enhance the bottom line, not because income inequality in and of itself is not moral but because it hurts the bottom line.”

Graff, the Notre Dame professor, said there’s a lot of potential for religiously affiliated colleges and universities to change and broaden students’ thinking and turn them into leaders in the public discourse about income inequality.

“I’ve come to believe over the last 15 years that religious institutions like these are the perfect places to reflect on such issues,” he said. “I’ve increasingly come to see how Catholic social teaching can help fuse spiritual and social questions, especially at Notre Dame, where there have been less problems with budget cuts, et cetera. I feel fortunate to be at a place where the investigation of serious issues can be informed by morality as well as disciplinary perspectives.”

Graff, who has a joint faculty appointment in Notre Dame’s history department and the social research center, directs the Higgins Labor Program, a unit of the Center for Social Concerns focused on teaching, research and community outreach related to work and social justice issues.

“There’s a lot of activism around this issue, but it has been a real challenge to channel that into national momentum that is sustainable,” he said.

Hurst has taught at Notre Dame for the past four years and was part of the Just Wage Working Group. She believes the stated concern about income equality at Notre Dame and elsewhere is often “more style than substance” and is being driven by public relations concerns “because it sounds good and makes the university more marketable and able to differentiate itself in the marketplace to some extent.”

She said courses focused on income inequality have tended to concentrate on poverty in developing countries, even though the university has “pockets of poverty right next door and is a feeder for low-wage jobs.” She cited as an example Business on the Front Lines, a course in the M.B.A. program that examines the impact of business in postconflict societies.

“For some reason we don’t see the poverty right around us,” she said. "Poverty in developing countries is seen as less threatening. Maybe if you’re a major employer paying poverty wages, you don’t want to look at it.”

Hurst said she has not sensed widespread focus on the subject in the business school or across the University.

“I’m sure there are people who think that way, but I have not heard anyone say that on a broad level,” she said. What’s more, “Professors in business schools tend to be more conservative than other departments,” and income inequality “doesn’t seem to be the thing that they want to take up.”

And those who do “understand and care about income inequality on a personal level still may not see it as relevant to their work,” she said.

Hurst also says there’s not enough collaboration among departments on this issue.

“They’re not connected to other disciplines that produce research on income inequality; our research tends to focus inward and not outward at what society is doing, and it’s not looking at the interface between business and society. We’re really not trained to do that.”

She finds the lack of collaboration frustrating.

“I wish there wasn’t so much division or walls between disciplines,” she said. “I’m frustrated that we give such a narrow perspective on business. I think especially at a Catholic institution that stresses morals, students want to be moral but they’re being told no, that’s not what you do in business.”

“The dominant ideology is that we live in a meritocracy, so if you’re poor you must be doing something wrong,” she said. “To Notre Dame’s credit, they have tried to really work on that through its Center for Social Concerns, which even offers faculty training on how to do community engagement,” she said. “But for some reason, it hasn’t penetrated to the business school.”

In the field of management, “there has been more openness to work on class and inequality,” she said. “It’s sort of nascent but we’re starting to see more research on class, but we’re way behind other disciplines.”

At the University of Pennsylvania, which is ranked third on the list of top 10 institutions with billionaire alumni, some 60 students at the Wharton business school took a management course focused on poverty and related social problems last semester.

According to the course syllabus, MGMT 241: Knowledge for Social Impact -- Analyzing Current Issues and Approaches “is designed to provide the information, strategies, examples, and analytical mindset to make students more rigorous, insightful, and effective in analyzing social ills and designing potential solutions.”

The course is taught by Katherine Klein, a professor of management and vice dean of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, a program that “advances the science and practice of social impact” through research, training and outreach. The course is an undergraduate elective, but many M.B.A. students also enroll in it, she said.

Klein said income equality is the subject of academic inquiry much more than it was 10 years ago. “But do I think there’s enough attention being paid to it? No.”

“A huge amount of what we do is advocate for more attention to these issues,” she said.

Every semester the course focuses on two social problems related to poverty -- it was food insecurity and recidivism last semester -- and examine for-profit and nonprofit strategies to resolve them.

“I think for virtually all of them it’s their first introduction to a rigorous academic look at poverty and mass incarceration,” Klein said. “I would venture to say that a huge percentage of educated adults have no idea what the poverty line is or what it means, so the same thing applies to my students.”

Although Ivy League institutions such as Penn are often considered bastions of rich and privileged young people, Klein said the students in her course are from “quite varied economic backgrounds.”

She describes the class as a deep dive into “the extent of poverty, the experience of poverty.”

“For many students it’s quite eye-opening, and for others it’s closer to how they grew up,” she said.

Klein wants her student to leave her class with more awareness about the complexities of poverty and income inequality.

“I really want them to understand the value and power of research on these issues,” she said. “As much as I love the boldness of business school students and their ambitions, I worry about the arrogance, the thinking that, ‘Oh, I can solve this problem. If only we had good business information about problem X, I can solve it.’ A number of them will go on to work on these kinds of topics, so I want them to have some framework about what works and what doesn’t.”

Novelli said it’s imperative that students understand the socioeconomic and political implications of not addressing income inequality, which he considers “detrimental to a democracy.”

“This is a serious national concern, and I don’t think it’s going to heal itself,” he said. “We have to close that gap, and our students, tomorrow’s leaders, have to focus on it. That’s what I stress in my work.”


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The University of Notre Dame College of Engineering has created a new Center for Civic Innovation in partnership with Notre Dame Research, Center for Social Concerns, and IDEA Center—part of an effort to find innovative solutions to pressing civic issues and improve quality of life and place in St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.

Consistent with the University’s longstanding commitment to the community, the center will facilitate partnerships between Notre Dame and local stakeholders, including schools, businesses, nonprofits and local governments, to innovate solutions around issues ranging from safe and affordable housing to lighting and stormwater management.

The University already partners with South Bend around the MetroLab Network, a consortium of 35 city-university partnerships focused on bringing data, analytics and innovation to city government as part of the White House’s Smart Cities Initiative.

The new center will build upon that relationship in three key ways, according to Jay Brockman, associate dean of community engagement and experiential learning in the College of Engineering and director of the new center.

  • It will broaden the relationship to include Elkhart, an industrial and creative hub and home to the booming recreational vehicle industry, in addition to other parts of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties.
  • It will work with other campus and research centers to establish connections and open new initiatives focused on the local community.
  • It will expand upon the model of an “educational ecosystem” piloted by the Notre Dame-backed Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem (BCe2).

A collaborative network of schools, local governments and community organizations, BCe2 pilots inclusive, sustainable projects to address real-world challenges in South Bend’s Southeast Neighborhood, a working-class neighborhood that was home to many former Studebaker Corp. employees.

Since 2015, the coalition, which started as an effort to revitalize Bowman Creek, a polluted tributary of the St. Joseph River, has worked to address a range of issues, from storm- and wastewater management and the reuse of vacant lots to safe and affordable housing.

“The University wanted to create a focal place where research and innovation that is beneficial to St. Joseph and Elkhart counties can come together,” Brockman said of the idea behind the center, explaining that there is “a push in engineering to translate research and innovation into practical application.”

Importantly, Brockman said, the center will work closely with local stakeholders, from educators and business and community leaders to public officials and everyday residents, to identify and address issues of specific importance to the community in a way that is inclusive and respects the experience and shared wisdom of the community.

“We’ll work with people in the city, neighborhood associations, community development corporations and schools, among other groups, to determine a priority list that matches what’s needed with what the students and faculty can do,” Brockman said. “Our goal is to work with the community to find resolutions to important issues, not to do things for or to the community.”

In addition to innovating solutions around civic issues, the center will introduce young people in the community to in-demand careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through its work with local primary and secondary schools, Brockman said.

“The Center for Civic Innovation will help unlock the city as a launch pad for learning and research that goes beyond service projects,” said Santiago Garces, chief innovation officer for the city of South Bend. “The center will work closely with the city’s Division of Civic Innovation, founded this year, as an engine to promote novel solutions to city problems. South Bend and Notre Dame are already models for city-university partnerships as founding members of the MetroLab Network, and we look forward to expanding our partnership.”

Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese said, “Elkhart is a collaborative community. All obstacles we have encountered have been overcome through collaboration and innovation. I am encouraged that the University of Notre Dame is expanding their community relationship to include the city of Elkhart and look forward to partnering with them to find creative solutions to challenges facing our city, ultimately making Elkhart an even better place to live, make and play.”

For more information, visit

Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127,


Friday, July 13, 2018

Wages are currently measured by two standards in the United States. A minimum wage is the lowest wage employers are legally allowed to pay employees, while a living wage is usually defined as one that is sufficient to maintain a basic standard of living for the earner.

At a symposium in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2018, the Just Wage Working Group of the Higgins Labor Program at the Center for Social Concerns presented a framework and tool designed to help determine if a wage meets a third, more robust standard: a just wage. Rooted in the Catholic social tradition (CST), a just wage concerns not only minimums but also maximums, adding consideration not only of an employer’s ability to pay but also whether some wages (like executive pay) are too excessive.

The symposium opened with an afternoon session where 30 labor organizers, advocates, and practitioners provided feedback on the proposed framework and tool. Later that same evening, more than 100 people attended the public unveiling of the just wage framework and tool, as well as heard remarks by the following distinguished speakers: Congressman Brendan Boyle (ND ‘99) from Pennsylvania’s 13th district; Sr. Quincy Howard, O.P. from the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; Ms. Maria Elena Durazo, Vice President of UNITE HERE; and Rev. Kevin Sandberg, C.S.C., Leo and Arlene Hawk Executive Director, Center for Social Concerns, University of Notre Dame. Each speaker addressed the question of wage justice from their particular perspective.

The just wage framework includes seven criteria with multiple indicators for each to determine whether the criteria are fulfilled or not. Criteria include whether or not a wage allows for asset-building, offers basic social security for the worker and her family or household, and is part of a non-discriminatory wage structure. The group is also developing an online tool that will allow users to determine whether or not a given wage scenario is just.

The Just Wage Working Group was formed in the fall of 2016 by two faculty members with joint appointments at the Center for Social Concerns. Dan Graff, who directs the Center’s Higgins Labor Program, is a professor of the practice in the department of history, where he specializes in U.S. labor; Clemens Sedmak, is professor of social ethics in the Keough School of Global Affairs and advisor in Catholic social tradition at the Center for Social Concerns. It includes faculty from multiple departments across the University, including law, sociology, and management.

As Graff explains it, “the Just Wage Working Group first came together to talk about a foundational question of CST: on what grounds can any wage be called just or unjust? By looking at the just wage question through the lens of CST—along with historical, sociological, legal, economic, and other normative approaches—the group offers a unique opportunity to foster dialogue not only between academic disciplines but also among professors, policymakers, and practitioners alike.”

Moving forward, the group hopes to have the online Just Wage Tool operational by the end of the coming academic year. As Graff notes of the recent symposium, “We accomplished our goal of getting constructive feedback from experts based in our nation's capital, and we returned to campus energized to continue the effort."
The Higgins Labor Program (HLP) is an interdisciplinary unit of the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) sponsoring research, education, and community engagement on issues involving work, labor organization, and social justice.

Contact: Dan Graff, Higgins Labor Program Director, (574) 631-5845,


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Animated by the center’s yearlong focus of  “Living the Challenge of Peace,” the 2018 Center for Social Concerns Community Engagement Faculty Institute (CEFI) was held June 5–7. The institute also expanded upon the Office of the Provost's "Inclusive Excellence Conference: Becoming Beloved Community," held in May which explored research showing how diversity must be connected to community engagement work as the two efforts are mutually reinforcing. CEFI offered engagement with diverse community partners, social concerns, and ways of researching and teaching for the common good.

The faculty institute, now in its seventh year, brought together its largest cohort of 40 participants from Notre Dame as well as throughout the region and other states and countries.  

The three-day institute further explored topics related to diversity and community engagement through a keynote panel, workshops by faculty and experts from local organizations along with  site visits in the local community. Workshops focused on incarceration and justice, immigration and rights, and work and dignity.

The keynote panel was a discussion with Rev. Edward "Monk" Malloy, C.S.C., president emeritus, University of Notre Dame, Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Steve Camilleri, executive director, Center for the Homeless, moderated by award-winning community-engaged scholar  Marisel Moreno Anderson, associate professor of Latino/a Literature. The panelists discussed enduring challenges the city of South Bend faces, particularly the issue of homelessness, and how University partnerships have worked to help solve these complex social problems.

“The panel was an academic discussion that represented practice and included voices from the University, the city, and the nonprofit sector in South Bend, so in many ways it represented the different kind of stakeholders that are present in community-based learning and research,” said Connie Snyder Mick, associate director of the Center for Social Concerns and director of the institute. “It looked at how partnerships start between the University and the community and how you find that shared sense of what makes up a beloved community.”

A new session hosted by the Near Northwest Neighborhood, Inc., paired community and faculty experts speaking on a range of public health issues, including mental health, lead poisoning, opioid addiction, and food access.

Participants found that integrating classroom teaching with lived experience creates a more impactful learning experience for their students. “The Community Engagement Faculty Institute exceeded my expectations,” commented Pamela Nolan Young, J.D., M.Ed., director for Academic Diversity and Inclusion at Notre Dame. “While I enjoyed the site visits and found the presentations informative, the big takeaway for me was the reciprocal relationship of our faculty and students and the South Bend Community.”

Faculty interested in considering how their teaching and research can help advocate for impact in local communities worldwide can contact Connie Mick.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

When I arrived at Casa Vides, I found a nondescript two-story brick building close enough to the border that you could walk to it.

This is a place that provides refuge for two types of people: those who evaded border patrol and those who were caught, handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and then released while their cases are still pending. Casa Vides provides food, shelter and legal support to up to 40 people at a time. It's run by the faith-based nonprofit, Annunciation House.

"My mom is an immigrant from South America so this issue has always been close to my heart," says Daniel Rottenborn, a 19-year-old volunteering for the summer. He and 20-year-old volunteer Francis Brockman are both students at University of Notre Dame.

"For me," Brockman says, "I've taken a lot of Spanish classes and so I wanted to put that to use and just the situation with immigration today, like, the political climate. It was something that I wanted to explore and learn more about. So I feel like coming to the border was a pretty obvious choice."

At this shelter, there are families and a number of teens—and that's an interesting experience for a young volunteer like Brockman.

"Sometimes there will be people that come into the house that are 19 or 20, like around our age, and they'll already have kids with them," Brockman says. "So that's just an entirely different situation that I cannot even imagine at this point my life."

Casa Vides said we couldn't talk to any of the residents. But Brockman and Rottenborn have heard from teens here—some of whom crossed illegally instead of through a port of entry–about fleeing all kinds of violence on their journeys. What little they say, says a lot.

"You see this 16-year-old kid," Rottenborn says. "He's with his family. You know, he has a bed, he has food for the first time in a while. And he's just sitting there quiet. It strikes me is vastly different than the experience of a normal American teenager."

Brockman and Rottenborn could have gotten more typical summer jobs. Brockman says his other option was working at a bagel shop back home in Ohio. The two are living at Casa Vides sharing a room adjacent to the migrants' rooms. They spend their time doing chores from cooking to cleaning to organizing games.

"Along this wall here, we have more stuff for babies," Brockman says. "We have a room full of sheets, dry goods, medicine."

"Yeah, we have a closet full of cleaning supplies, baby diapers, sanitary products, all of the hygiene and health-oriented stuff as well," Rotterborn adds.

Rotterborn says he and Brockman aren't trained on how to work with babies and children. The shelter's goal is to promote independence and allow parents to do what they do best, parent.

"The resiliency that we see from these kids when they come into our house, and they start playing with the toys, and immediately, it's like that, you flip a switch, and they go from scared kids hiding behind their parents to just kids," Rotterborn says.

This past weekend, a bus pulled up and 32 undocumented parents got off. With a few small belongings, including papers, they quietly walked into Casa Vides, greeted by staff with hugs. The parents had been separated from their children at the border. Their criminal cases were dropped after Trump reversed his policy on family separation.

Casa Vides tells migrants they can stay at the shelter as long as they want. Many will connect with family members in the U.S. and move out to live with them while they wait for their day in court.

Borderzine, a student-driven online magazine in El Paso, contributed reporting. This story was produced by Youth Radio.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Formed by Catholic social teaching and especially inspired by the welcome and healing ministries of St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. André Bessette, C.S.C., the Center for Social Concerns lends its voice in support of Fr. Jenkins’ call that the Executive branch of the federal government cease its practice of separating children from their parents. As Pope Francis noted in his 2015 address to the U.S. Congress, we must respond to the refugee crisis “in a way which is always humane, just, and fraternal.”'

What can we do? (suggestions from Fr. James Martin, S.J.)

Visit the Vatican's Migrant and Refugee page 
Visit the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services
Visit the pages for the Jesuit Refugee Service/InternationalJRS/USA, and the Kino Border Initiative

Help organizations, financially, who are helping the migrants now, including:

Catholic Charities/USA
Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley
Kino Border Initiative (a Jesuit ministry) 
Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Legal help is very important right now, particularly for asylum seekers.
You can also read and sign the Advocacy Action Alert on Family Separation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Journal of Catholic Higher Education has just published a special issue (Winter 2018) dedicated to exploring the role of Catholic social teaching (CST) in Catholic colleges and universities. The issue is the culmination of the CST Learning and Research Initiative, a collaboration of faculty and administrators from 11 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States.

Jay Brandenberger, research and graduate student initiatives director at the Center for Social Concerns, and Bill Purcell, associate director and operations and Catholic social tradition director at the Center for Social Concerns, helped direct the initiative and contributed to the special issue.

Together with Kathleen Maas Weigert and Kurt Schlichting, Brandenberger contributed an article called “Institutional Commitment to the Catholic Social Tradition: Implicit or Explicit?” The article analyzes mission statements, curricular offerings, and centers at eleven Catholic colleges and universities in order to examine how CST is embedded in the structures of Catholic institutions of higher learning.

Bill Purcell contributed an article co-written with Margarita Rose called “Engaging Mission: Applying the Catholic Social Tradition to Investing and Licensing.” Like their secular and other religious counterparts, Catholic colleges and universities use endowment and licensing revenues to supplement tuition income. Purcell and Rose look at how Catholic colleges and universities adhere or not to basic principles of CST in their investing and licensing practices.

Other articles in the issue look at CST and the composition and orientation of boards of trustees of Catholic colleges and universities; CST and labor policies at Catholic colleges and universities; CST and faculty development programs; student perceptions of CST; and a rubric to assess student learning of CST.

Contact: JP Shortall, director of communications and advancement, (574) 631-3209,


Friday, April 6, 2018

Five-year anniversary event at University of Notre Dame focuses on 'radical inequality' 


Pictured from left: Journalist Anne Thompson; Prof. Anantanand Rambachan; Kevin Sandberg, executive director of the University of Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns; Prof. Julie Hanlon Rubio; and San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy (Katie McCauley)

NOTRE DAME, IND. — Among the plethora of events commemorating five years of Pope Francis' pontificate this spring, the one at the University of Notre Dame aimed to focus on his contributions to Catholic social teaching on peace, the poor and the planet. But another "P" also kept coming up: polarization.

Although Francis remains popular, controversy about his pontificate is real, especially among inner-circle Catholics deeply invested in the church, said speakers at the April 3 event, sponsored by Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns.

Much of that polarization is the result of Francis' "new lens" on the church's social teachings that reflects the experience of the church in Latin America, said San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy in his keynote address. Catholics in the Global South, he pointed out, represent at least two thirds of the universal church.

"Thus the real complaint of many critics of Pope Francis is that he brings the perspective of the majority of Catholics, rather than the minority, to bear on social teaching," he said.

McElroy sees "fundamental continuity" in Francis' teachings, but identified several ways this pope's perspective is different, including his use of an inductive methodology that starts with experience and applies the Gospel to that reality. This "see-judge-act" method has been central to the church in Latin America, he said, in part, because it is accessible to all people.

McElroy compared Francis' critique of globalization to Pope Leo XIII's critique of industrialization in Rerum Novarum, the 1893 encyclical that launched modern Catholic social teaching. The current pope believes "the tremendous upheaval in economic, familial and cultural life caused by globalization requires the erection of new structures of social justice," McElroy said.

Another part of Francis' new lens is his emphasis on the theme of marginalization that has become outright exclusion. "In Pope Francis' very memorable terminology, such people are 'throwaways,'" McElroy said, citing as examples hungry children, the unborn, the undocumented, those affected by racism and "young white non-college educated men and women who have seen their hometowns and their expected livelihoods destroyed by globalization."

Such exclusion is rooted in "grave inequalities of power, wealth, education, race and culture," McElroy said. "It is precisely because exclusion is tied inextricably to these levels of inequality that Pope Francis views radical inequality as a moral curse, and an enemy of human dignity."

Also contributing to polarization around this pope is his application of a consistent ethic to all social issues, including family and gender, said panelist Julie Hanlon Rubio, professor of Christian ethics and of women's and gender studies at St. Louis University. Rubio is a member of the NCR board of directors.

This methodological shift toward a consistent ethic is evident in "Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment, and in Amoris Laetitia, his document on the family, Rubio said.

In the former, he moves teaching from dominion to stewardship, emphasizing our responsibility to future generations. In the latter, Francis repeats traditional teachings but also stresses welcoming those who fall short of the ideal. In both cases, he leaves the practical specifics to those at the local level, Rubio said.

"This combination of challenge, refocusing and complexity is exciting for many, but troubling for some," Rubio said, noting that he is not the first polarizing pope. 

"The only difference is that now opposition is coming primarily from the right rather than the left," she said.

Although Francis could do more on LGBT persons' and women's issues, he has made progress in convincing Christians and non-Christians that the church aspires to be a "church for the poor," Rubio said. 

"Though little in his social teaching is completely new, the choice of what to say frequently and what not to say at all speaks volumes about priorities," she said.

So do the pope's actions, said panelist Anne Thompson, an NBC News correspondent who has covered Francis.

She told stories of witnessing the pope's "gospel of gestures" during his travels, when he often shares meals with people who are homeless. "He pretty much just listens," said Thompson. 

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy gave the his keynote address at the April 3 event. (Katie McCauley)

Panelist Anantanand Rambachan also praised the pope's movements on interreligious dialogue, comparing him to Swami Vivekananda, who first introduced Hinduism to the United States and called for religious tolerance at the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago.

Yet Rambachan challenged the pope's frequent connection of interreligious dialogue with evangelization. "How can one be committed to diversity as a religious good if his ultimate aim is evangelization," asked Rambachan, professor of religion at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Responding to questions posed by Notre Dame students before the event, speakers stressed dialogue — especially with those who think differently — as necessary to address the polarization around the pope and in the broader culture.

Rubio called for universities to teach how to talk across lines of division. McElroy said the Latin American church offers a model in base communities, but with a twist: the people must be from different backgrounds.

Personal narrative is the solution to the polarization and partisanship that has infected the church and culture, he said. For example, the San Diego Diocese has 200,000 undocumented immigrants, but also some Catholics very concerned about illegal immigration.

"If you get them in the same room to talk to each other, the partisanship tends to fall away as you see how the issues affect people," McElroy said.

Heidi Schlumpf is NCR national correspondent. Her email address is 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Rev. Kevin Sandberg, C.S.C., has been appointed Leo and Arlene Hawk Executive Director of the Center for Social Concerns, effective July 1. He has served as acting director of the center during academic year 2017-2018 while Rev. Paul Kollman, C.S.C., has been on research leave. Father Kollman has served as the center’s executive director since 2012 and will resume full-time teaching and research in the Department of Theology June 30.

"Father Sandberg's innovative teaching and ambitious vision for the role of Catholic social teaching at Notre Dame and beyond make him well-suited for leadership of the center," said Christine M. Maziar, Vice President and Senior Associate Provost for Budget and Planning. "And we want to thank Father Kollman for five years of faith-filled leadership that helped the center expand its many important contributions to the University's mission."

“I am very grateful for the confidence that Fr. Paul and the Office of the Provost have in my ability to continue to lead the Center for Social Concerns,” said Fr. Sandberg. “Our vision is to be the pre-eminent academic institute in the academy that provides a place to gather, form, and nourish people in the study and practice of engaged Catholic social teaching. Together we learn more fully what it means to understand the Gospel mandate that the love of God enjoins us to the love of neighbor.”

Since joining the center in 2014, Father Sandberg has directed the Common Good Initiative, a Catholic social teaching immersion course for graduate students with sites in Haiti, Cuba, Uganda, Jerusalem, and Detroit. In a previous stint at the center, he taught immersion seminars in Hispanic ministry and education. He regularly teaches a development of theology course for undergraduate students who have participated in service learning.

He is a Fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, a member of the board of Ave Maria Press, and a past board member of the Religious Education Association: an Association of Professors, Practitioners, and Researchers in Religious Education.

Father Kevin received his B.A. in economics and an M.Div. from the University of Notre Dame, an M.A. in theology from the Graduate Theological Union/Jesuit School of Theology, and his doctorate in religion and education from Fordham University. His research interests include theological reflection, the principle of the common good in Catholic social teaching, and the neglect of listening and its restoration through religious education.

Prior to pastoral ministry as a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Father Kevin was a trust officer with the Northern Trust Bank and a financial economist with the U.S. Treasury Department. He was the founding director of Young Adult Community at St. Clement Church in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Contact: JP Shortall, director of communications and advancement, (575) 631-3209,

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Originally published by the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences

The Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem (BCe2) has been awarded by the Indiana Department of Education for Excellence in the Postsecondary Partnership category. Leaders of the program were honored at a ceremony in Indianapolis on Thursday, February 8. BCe2 was also honored at the 12th annual IMPACT Awards Luncheon hosted by IndianaINTERNnet. The South Bend Regional Chamber of Commerce nominated the program, and BCe2 was named Nonprofit Employer of the Year. 

The program’s humble beginning started in 2012 with a cleanup of Bowman Creek in the city’s southeast neighborhood. A City of South Bend supplemental environmental investigative report found it was the most impaired tributary in the St. Joseph River and uninhabitable to marine life.

However, faculty staff, and students from the University of Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns (NDCSC) and College of Engineering (NDCOE) knew there was more to this than just the creek.

The Southeast neighborhood had been a bustling site for employees of the Studebaker factory, but after closing its doors in 1963, the population dramatically declined. 55 years later, only 2,500 of the original 10,000 residents remain.

The revival of downtown made it an appropriate time to capitalize on the resurgence in the area. Without hesitation, NDCSC and NDCOE got started, capitalizing on their students' infectious energy. 

"There was this really great ecosystem of innovation and support," says Notre Dame Environmental Engineering Alum and BCe2 Team Leader Sara Boukdad. "People wanted to help each other out and collaborate." 

Faculty and students from local colleges and high schools brought their talent to BCe2 starting with the creek cleanup. Engineering students from the University of Notre Dame worked alongside students from Riley High School, home to the technology and engineering magnet program.

“Riley was naturally a part of the program since the creek goes underneath our parking lot and our practice football field,” says Matt Modlin, magnet coordinator at Riley High School. “We worked for a summer doing water quality analysis to try to get a baseline set of information.”

Students from NDCOE also designed a pedestrian bridge and students with NDCSC surveyed the neighborhood on issues residents wanted to see addressed. By 2015, several interns from across the city started working with the program. 

As cleanup efforts expanded, community partnerships began to grow. Representatives from Ivy Tech Community CollegeIndiana University South BendSt. Joseph High School, and more started to lend their expertise. There was a clear need to address neighborhood problems beyond the creek, but it was imperative that participants include the community on prospective projects.

 Boukdad says collaborating with grassroots neighborhood organizations, the City of South Bend, and residents of the Southeast neighborhood was key to growing the program.

“We do things with the community, not to or for,” says Boukdad. “We do not start a project until we see there is interest from the community or if there is a need for a certain task force to be working towards a solution.”

The main challenge has been gaining the trust of neighborhood residents who have been wary of the program’s longevity. Helping to ease the transition is Southeast Neighborhood Resident and Ivy Tech Community College Student Fred Teague.

“Initially, the community was skeptical about a new organization in the neighborhood,” says Teague. “They had seen organizations make these big promises but they have never seen the results.”

Teague serves as a liaison to two other neighborhood organizations, 466 Works, and SOAR, or Southeast Organized Area of Residents

"The main thing is being an active, consistent presence in the neighborhood," Teague says. 

To fulfill this mission, BCe2 continued to host barbeques with SOAR in local parks to increase visibility and communication between the organizations and neighbors.The picnics provide an opportunity to dialogue on ways to address challenges in the neighborhood and include residents in the decision-making process. BCe2 stepped in to help advertise and promote the events. By the end of the summer of 2017, over 300 people came to the SOAR picnic to celebrate, meet their neighbors, and break bread together.

In addition to these gatherings, Teague says BCe2 members canvassed the neighborhood and surveyed residents on the most pressing issues preventing the area from prospering. 

"We walked block by block and took a survey determining that poor lighting was a main issue," he says. 

BCe2 worked with the City of South Bend and homeowners to implement and publicize a City of South Bend pilot program for lighting. Homeowners paid for a portion of the installation and connected the lamp posts to their electrical system while the city paid the remainder. The program provided an affordable way to combat late-night crime while beautifying the area. In April, 30 new lamp posts will be installed.

BCe2 has evolved to include several other pilot programs, including the Vacant Lot Optimization Team. After Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 1,000 Homes in 1,000 Days program ended, there were roughly 400 vacant lots on the southeast side. The team mapped out their locations and collected data to determine the best use for each space. St. Joseph High School Student Marty Kennedy was one of the interns involved with the project.

“We would go to these lots and observe the best kind of use for each one, whether that is splitting the lots between two neighbors to increase property value or installing residential housing or building a rain garden,” says Kennedy.

The team presented their information to city officials who gave them the green light to use the lots as a way to find creative solutions to local problems. From the data, they found one of the most prevalent issues was basement flooding from excess rainwater.

“We are trying to reduce the human health effects of combined rainwater with sewage backup in a person’s basement,” says Gary Gilot, director of engineering leadership and community engagement at NSCOE. 

BCe2 came up with the environmentally-conscious and cost-effective solution of implementing rain gardens filled with native plants. The roots would expand several feet into the ground, soaking up excess rainwater at a quicker rate. By incorporating several gardens near homes and vacant lots they can prevent excess water from flooding the sewer systems and basements.

The project has also allowed high school students to get involved with BCe2 through Bowman Creek Academy, a week-long summer program focusing on environmental sustainability and youth empowerment. Kennedy helped establish the program in 2017.

“We created a rain garden at Ivy Tech which was awesome because it allowed the students to take what they learned and apply it to a tangible project,” he says.

Participants also visited local tree nurseries, learned how to incorporate technology into the projects, and had the chance to look at the smart sewer infrastructure in South Bend.

“Going to an academic program like this in the summer is not always the number one thing people want to do,” says Kennedy. “It was very humbling to learn that other people are thinking this way and care about social issues and believe their voice can create change.”

The University of Notre Dame is also capitalizing on the educational impact of BCe2. The site has become the inspiration for a new engineering course.

“The Bowman Creek Internship was gaining momentum and we wanted to start thinking about how we could integrate it into the general curriculum,” says Notre Dame Graduate Student Maria Krug.

She now teaches the undergraduate Community-Based Engineering Design Projects course through NDCOE. In it, students learn how to combine their engineering expertise with a human-centered design.

BCe2 has also led to a collaboration with Indiana University South Bend (IUSB). NDCOE and NDCSC led the development of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE) grant, which brought in partnerships with the School of Education at IUSB and Anthropology at Notre Dame. Last summer, Anthropology and Education faculty led a team of ethnographers from regional schools to analyze the BCe2 program. Students collected data on the relationships between the interns, mentors, and the community.

Gabrielle Robinson, a South Bend native and graduate of Indiana University South Bend, spent the summer working with the ethnography team. She says it was rewarding to see the students evolve from the start of their internship to the end. Even more rewarding is how invested they became in the community afterward.

“They embrace the challenge of going into this area that is seen as a conflict-ridden place and they give it something to be proud of,” says Robinson.

As BCe2 continues to gain close alliances with residents, community organizations, and the city, they are also subconsciously cleaning up the tarnished reputation South Bend has been trying to rid itself of. Gilot says South Bend has involuntarily become net exporters of talent. Now, the city has opened its doors to technology, sustainability, and creativity, leading to job growth. The missing element is making students feel personally connected to the area.

“If we can get their hearts a little more connected to community-engaged work it makes a lot of difference in whether the talent wants to stay,” he says.

Krug has seen the results for herself.

“We have close to 50 percent of the people who have gone through the summer internship program who end up staying in South Bend,” she says. “It is exciting to see more students who are invested in the city.”

Kennedy says he has also witnessed a renewed pride in his hometown.

“A lot of the rhetoric I was hearing a few years ago was, South Bend is terrible, it is boring and there is nothing here,” he says. “As we have tried to do more things to improve the city and make it better, more people say they love South Bend and want to stay here."

The reach of BCe2 is an impressive feat that has brought together people from all walks of life who may not have interacted otherwise.

“To see students from all over the world at different universities come together for a united cause and actually see results is amazing,” Teague says.

Krug says the diversity of these collaborations has also enhanced in-classroom learning. Students are now beginning to leave the university bubble and see what is out there.

“That immersive experience for the students is the most important aspect. On a regular basis they are able to go to Ivy Tech and Indiana University South Bend and the city,” she says.

Earning an award that recognizes the importance of these partnerships from the Indiana Department of Education is validation that the group's hard work is paying off. 

"We are very excited about our program but for someone else to acknowledge that, it is something we have been striving towards as long as we’ve been around," says Boukdad.

As BCe2 looks to the future, they will continue their existing programs and hope to expand their involvement in lead risk management, affordable housing, and community development spaces.

The BCe2 model may also soon be replicated on South Bend’s west side.

"We think this is a way of community engagement that really works," Boukdad says. "It is a whole city approach for how we can improve quality of life, get other people involved and uplift this city."

Of course, the focus will stay the same -finding sustainable solutions to real-world challenges and in so doing, empower residents.

To learn more about the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem, community partners, or to get involved, visit

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