Inaugural Wishes

Author: Arts and Letters

As the nation prepares for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, members of Notre Dame’s faculty and staff pen some well-wishes for the nation’s new leader, and the nation.

John Borkowski, McKenna Family Professor of Psychology
“A ‘Perfect Storm’ will strike many American families in 2009: unemployment, home foreclosures, depression and stress, crime and violence, budget cuts in education and social services, and rising rates of child abuse and neglect. The President should use his bully-pulpit to focus on the plight of our nation’s children: Urge volunteerism, build a workable system of faith-based outreach initiatives, and teach more about parent engagement and responsibilities. The new secretaries of Health and Human Services and Education should move quickly to strengthen medical, mental health and education programs for all children and create easily available and high quality preschool programs, beginning at one year of age, for all children in poverty.”

Paul McGinn, acting director, ND Energy Center
“I would like to see a clear, thoughtful national energy policy be defined. The early signs are positive with the selection of Nobel laureate Steven Chu as the energy secretary. Hopefully this means that science will play an important role in guiding the decision-making process in energy matters at the federal level.”

Allert Brown-Gort, associate director, Institute for Latino Studies
“Although one might wish for a new effort at reforming the country’s immigration policies, the ongoing economic crisis makes this unlikely in the short term—both because there are more pressing issues, but also because it makes the case for immigrant labor more difficult to make. However, the new administration can make executive changes modifying the current regime of stepped-up enforcement that has deported a record 274,000 people in 2008—and that has destroyed families and communities. Moreover, the nomination of Rep. Hilda Sols as secretary of labor augurs for a new policy that focuses on the need to recognize that the solution to the immigration conundrum is through policies that address the needs of both workers and employers.”

Michael Lykoudis, dean, School of Architecture
“Americans are deeply concerned about sustainability issues that reduce global warming and ensure there is a planet for future generations to inherit. We, too, at the School of Architecture, are focused on this issue and encourage Obama to raise land-use and transportation policies to the highest level of importance. Our future depends on our capacity to use the next few decades to plan for a time when fossil fuels will become scarcer. Past policies have produced suburban sprawl, poorly built buildings and an inefficient and unsustainable infrastructure. In how we build and live, we must rethink our land-use and transit in the new economy.

“We encourage Obama to develop effective strategies that encourage higher-density, multi-use, pedestrian-based neighborhoods. Our buildings should not waste resources by using excessive energy with unnecessary heating and air conditioning. Instead we should rely on passive systems when possible. Buildings should have the capacity for adaptive reuse to last for centuries rather than decades. We cannot afford to invest in our cities only to see them crumble in a few years time. With respect to transportation, we hope the new administration will promote a true national, regional and local rail and bus system to replace the auto industry and our cracking highway system that has become inefficient.

The pulse of America, not to mention the health of America (a recent study by the Brookings Institution says those living in cities have a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle than those living in suburbia), rests in America’s big cities and not in suburban sprawl. The establishment of a White House Office of Urban Policy is an opportunity to better coordinate federal efforts to help link U.S. land-use, transportation and national health-care policies. The office promises to build more livable and sustainable communities, use innovative measures to improve building efficiency, and above all, foster healthier lives for all Americans."

Ken Milani, professor of accountancy
“My wishes are simple: Tax forms that are simple and easy to read; understandable tax laws. And I may be dreaming, but an easier tax code would be very redeeming.”

Scott Monroe, Warren Foundation Professor of Psychology
“As a senator and a presidential candidate, Obama demonstrated sensitivity to the needs of the mentally ill. For example, he co-sponsored legislation that called for health insurance coverage to provide parity between mental and physical health benefits. In terms of taking care of people with mental disorders, the mental health profession can be optimistic. What I would hope for is that the premise of parity would be extended from treatment to research, that scientific studies directed toward understanding mental illness become as valued as scientific studies directed toward understanding other medical conditions.

“The economy is casting its own burden on the mental health of our nation. We know that when the economy does poorly, mental health problems increase. In addition to addressing the current economic crisis, we hope Obama can anticipate and attend to the emotional and behavioral consequences as well.”

Susan Ohmer, Carey Professor of Modern Communication
“Since the election last fall, journalists and editorial writers have flooded print and broadcast media with `to do’ lists for the president-elect, lists that include everything from salvaging the economy to negotiating a durable peace in the Middle East. To these important requests may I add one more: that President Obama continue to inspire us with his eloquence, clarity and imaginative vision. Here’s hoping for an inaugural address that reminds us what the U.S. has been and what it can become once more.”

Daniel Philpott, associate professor of political science, Kroc Institute
“The thorniest foreign policy crises of American presidents since the end of the Cold War have involved building peace in the wake of military operations. Clinton in Somalia. Bush in Afghanistan. Bush in Iraq. The problem has proven far more difficult than military victory itself. The concept of `strategic peace building’ offers fresh thinking for building peace in war torn and impoverished countries. Peace is not just a matter of providing security. It also involves promoting economic growth and equality, building the rule of law, fostering reconciliation among communal factions through truth forums, reparations and accountability, and cooperating with the United Nations as well as with local religious and tribal leaders. Through such a holistic strategy, America might better succeed in spreading human rights and democracy and reducing terrorism—goals that Presidents Clinton and Bush pursued but that Obama could pursue better.”

Linda Przybyszewski, associate professor, history
“My wish is to bring back old-fashioned home economics courses that taught young people how to budget and shop wisely. If more people had been asked at age 16 to figure out exactly how much Annie Abel had to spend on her school wardrobe if her parents made $100 a year, we would not have 35 year-olds thinking that flat-screen TVs were necessities and an interest-only mortgage was a good idea.”

Joe Russo, director of student finance strategies, financial aid
“We know that President-elect Obama is a great supporter of college opportunity and the need to keep these costs affordable for all students and families. During his campaign, he promised to reduce the complexity of the student aid process to one that is less daunting and more encouraging. It was a promise that many Americans wholeheartedly endorsed. We look forward to continued support in this area over the next four years.”

Jackie Smith, associate professor of sociology and peace studies
“I would like to see Obama make human rights a beacon for his administration. Many of the crises we are facing today are the result of our neglect of human rights both within our country and in the larger world. Economic policies that have prioritized economic growth over meeting human needs have contributed to the enormous gaps we see between rich and poor. These inequalities are at the root of the financial, energy, food and environmental crises. As more and more Americans face joblessness, homelessness and poverty, it is vital that we find new ways of coming together to transform our economy. The Bush administration actively worked to divide citizens and polarize our country as it mobilized around a `war on terror.’ As President, Obama needs to nurture a culture of tolerance, mutual respect and dialogue that is essential to a healthy democracy. And by prioritizing human rights in our international policy, we can regain the respect of the international community and help lead the world toward peaceful and equitable solutions to the urgent crises we face.”

John Staud, director, Alliance for Catholic Education
“Regardless of one’s politics, I think we—Americans as well as the international community—celebrate the historic nature of Obama’s election, which signals obvious progress in an issue—race—that has long divided the United States. I hope that Obama’s presidency leads to the healing of many forms of division that beset our country, perhaps none greater than inequality of educational opportunity, which some have called the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Many of us in ACE see the appointment of Arne Duncan as secretary of education as an important sign of hope that this administration will support innovative models of teacher formation and retention and embrace effective models of schooling—whether public, charter, private or (most dear to our hearts) faith-based. If our children really are America’s most precious resource; they deserve nothing less.”

Rev. Oliver Williams, C.S.C., director, Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business
“Before he has taken office, Obama, through one senior-level appointment, has strengthened and enhanced the work of business in addressing poverty and other human challenges throughout the world. In December, Susan E. Rice was named ambassador to the United Nations and at the same time that post was upgraded to cabinet rank. Rice, a Rhodes Scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford, served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration and is a strong advocate of multilateralism. By this appointment, Obama has signaled that for his administration the United Nations, with all its flaws, is an essential global institution.

“_As a member of the four-person board of directors of the U.N. Global Compact Foundation, I have observed the importance of the work of business in overcoming poverty. In just eight years, the United Nations, through the Global Compact, has enlisted 5,000 businesses in 120 countries to advance human rights, labor rights, environmental concerns and anti-corruption It is the largest voluntary corporate social responsibility presence ever concerned, and its work has helped poor people, especially in developing countries._

“With Rice’s appointment, the Obama administration has given the U.N. the attention it deserves, and it is my fervent hope that the Global Compact companies will do even more to meet the challenges of the poor.”

Richard Williams, associate professor of sociology
_"The new administration should continue the fight for affordable housing. Many people blame the current economic crisis on misguided efforts to promote home ownership; but in reality, during the 1990s genuine progress was being made in low-income and minority home ownership before greed, stupidity and predatory practices were allowed to go unchecked. It is better to do everything we reasonably can to help people stay in their homes than to allow their properties to go vacant and abandoned, bringing entire neighborhoods down with them in the process. New home ownership can be encouraged by fair interest rates and by programs designed to help people learn how to manage their finances. For those who cannot or should not become home owners, the provision of quality affordable rental housing should be a top priority. The American dream of home ownership became a nightmare for many during the 2000s; but by reversing the excesses and abuses of the past several years, the dream can become viable again."

Originally published by Gail Hinchion Mancini at on January 15, 2009.