Bill Kirk Fired Due To Organizational Restructuring

March 7, 2012 by staff 

Bill Kirk Fired Due To Organizational Restructuring, The decision by Father Tom Doyle, Notre Dame’s new Vice-President for Student Affairs to fire Bill Kirk from his position as Associate Vice-President for Residence Life has left many of us with an empty feeling. It has also put another dent in Notre Dame’s reputation as a family-friendly and compassionate employer. The decision was both unfair and imprudent.

It was unfair, because, as a loyal employee of Notre Dame for almost 22 years-and one who had been placed repeatedly in positions where he took the brunt of public criticism for enforcing policies adopted by his superiors-he deserved better from those superiors than to be removed from office with no notice and with no public explanation for his removal.

It was imprudent, because administrators of Bill Kirk’s talent, compassion and principled commitment to the good are rare. He loved Notre Dame and he loved and respected the students whose welfare he vigorously pursued.

In addition, his removal from office took place against the background of other events at Notre Dame that inevitably raised questions about its real motivation. Bill Kirk’s office had been the target of the much publicized ire of a grumpy Charlie Weis who, on his way out of town, told the South Bend Tribune that the Office of Residence Life was “the biggest problem on the campus” (SBT, 12-5-09). Perhaps, it seemed to some, Coach Weis, unable to take a scalp from USC, took pleasure in participating in taking one from the less well-armed Bill Kirk.

Bill Kirk, of course, has long been one of the favorite targets of the denizens of ND-Nation and other red-meat web sites where rabid Notre Dame fans gather to cyber-vent. They frequently charge that Bill Kirk’s enforcement of Notre Dame’s disciplinary code was too harsh and that his insistence that Notre Dame athletes be subject to the same rules as other Notre Dame students was responsible for our repeated failures on the athletic fields. If Kirk would just let “boys be boys”, we could overcome even Charlie Weis’s massive incompetence and return to glory. One wag on the internet predictably responded to Kirk’s firing with the witless, “Ding-dong the wicked witch is dead.”

Events later in the summer seemed to confirm that the firing of Bill Kirk would make life easier for Notre Dame athletes in disciplinary trouble. The same week he was fired, it was announced that a celebrated football player charged with serious misconduct would return to his team as usual. It was also widely noticed that a student charged with a similar offense some years before had been treated much more harshly. This announcement prompted another internet wit to offer a definition of a “Notre Dame trade”-you trade an associate vice-president for a tight end.

Later in the summer, when a number of prominent under-age Notre Dame athletes and other students had a hostile encounter with the local police at an off-campus party, it was promptly announced both by our football coach and our basketball coach that discipline for these matters would be handled “internally” in the athletic department. In a summer in which all Domers were celebrating the distance between our oversight of athletics from the disorderly mess at USC, this incident raised questions about just how different we really are. Was this another sign that in the post-Kirk era, student discipline at Notre Dame would be handed out in a less even-handed way? While everyone is equal, some are a little more equal than others-or so it appeared to many.

Of course, it may simply be a coincidence that these events followed so closely on the firing of Bill Kirk-and the “restructuring” Father Doyle gave as his brief explanation for it. Notre Dame’s refusal to give any explanation for Kirk’s firing, however, gives credence to rumors of changed attitudes toward student discipline-especially as it relates to the athletic department. One can understand the general wisdom of Notre Dame’s oft-repeated policy commitment-”we will not comment on personnel matters”-but such silence has a price when actions are as ambiguous in their intent as the firing of Bill Kirk.

And the price seems far too high when the issues at stake are of such importance-they concern, for example, as this action did, the essential fairness of procedures for student discipline and the integrity of the athletic program on which so much of Notre Dame’s corporate endeavors seem to be recently focused. At a university that now casually refers to the “business of college football” and the “Notre Dame brand”, special vigilance is needed to protect basic fairness from the intrusion of corporate interests.

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