Historian to Lead Notre Dame's First New School in Almost a Century

Matt Cashore, U. of Notre Dame

R. Scott Appleby
October 02, 2014

A conversation with a group of biologists who study climate change led R. Scott Appleby, a historian, to refine some of his thinking about the new school he would lead at the University of Notre Dame.

The biologists said Notre Dame was not yet on the map on that important topic. We want to be known, they said, as valuable contributors to efforts to help countries prepare for the effects of climate change, "It was just an eye-opener," Mr. Appleby recalls.

With the founding of the Donald R. Keough School of Global Affairs, Notre Dame’s first new school since 1921, Mr. Appleby plans to put Notre Dame on the map in discussions of pressing global issues like climate change, poverty, and human rights.

Mr. Appleby, who has been named the school’s founding dean, says he hopes to combine the university’s existing strengths in studying cultural and religious traditions with a focus on developing policy solutions for such issues.

The Rev. John I. Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, says he hopes the school—plans for which were announced on Wednesday—will add "an original and perhaps distinctive voice" to the discussion.

To create the school, Notre Dame will combine several existing institutes and centers set up over several decades—among them, the university’s Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies and the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies. Over the next few years, Mr. Appleby will also hire faculty members for the school, which is set to open in a new building, named for Father Jenkins, in August 2017. The effort is supported by a $50-million gift from the longtime donors Donald R. Keough, chairman of an investment-banking firm and a retired president of Coca-Cola, and his wife, Marilyn.

Father Jenkins says that, after he became president, in 2005, he began to think about creating a new kind of school.

"Sometimes we’re overly focused on the economy, which is very important, or on political structures." he says. The new school will have religious and communal dimensions, he says, and be concerned with "human well-being."

Early in Mr. Appleby’s career as a historian of American religion, he says, he would not have expected to end up in his new role. But his interest in global history increased when he began working with the historian Martin E. Marty at the University of Chicago in the late 1980s to study fundamentalism across several religious traditions.

By 1994, when he moved to Notre Dame—where he had earned his undergraduate degree—he was immersed in global issues. In 2000 he became director of the university’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, which will be part of the new school.

Mr. Appleby found himself looking to scholars in disciplines outside his own emphasis on religious and intellectual history—including the sciences, engineering, and public policy—for ideas about the Kroc center’s direction.

That collaboration across disciplines made Mr. Appleby, who is 57, an ideal fit to lead the new school, Father Jenkins says. The challenge for the new dean, Father Jenkins says, is "to get all those people working together around a common vision" in a little less than three years.

The Keough school will offer a master’s degree in global affairs, along with what Mr. Appleby hopes will be several dual-degree programs with other schools, like law and business, and a combined bachelor’s and master’s program for undergraduates.

"I’m really excited about the prospects we have for doing something innovative and new," he says. "Notre Dame is a place with a lot of creativity and resources."