Advice for First-Year Students

Welcome to Notre Dame!  You could not have made a better choice than to join our community.

You could not have begun college at a more turbulent period in world history.  I am not only referring to our continuing battle against COVID.  I am also thinking about the deep social and economic disparities in our society, racial injustice, ongoing assaults on western political institutions and values, and the devastating, daily impact of global climate change on millions of people in countries less fortunate than our own.

I am glad I will have the opportunity to share this experience with you.  In fact, this is an opportune moment to  to learn about the world in ways that were unavailable to past decades of Notre Dame students.  We are on a new road:  HERE

A first opportunity. I have deliberately structured this course to be relevant to a wide range of issues–and not just politics!–that are relevant to understanding the contemporary world.  I will provide the framework. You will fill in the details as you like by keeping up with current events, reading newspapers (see Requirements), acquainting yourself with other countries and cultures, and reflecting on what you learn from your peers, especially students with much different backgrounds than you and international students.

A second opportunity.  We are at Notre Dame, and not at any random East Coast “finishing school” or big state U (like the Ohio university that wants to call itself “The”). For this reason, I have unabashedly designed this course to encourage you to reflect upon the faith and values of a Catholic university (even if you are not Catholic or religious at all).  In the name of maintaining “objectivity” and “neutrality,” professors at many universities are often reluctant to raise questions about divisive issues, such as how we should live our lives and how we should treat others.  Not I!  As you will see, I don’t believe one can talk objectively about politics without raising these questions.

Finally, our turbulent times provide each of you with a greater incentive than was available to earlier generations of ND students to ask what you expect of yourself during the coming four years. University education is a privilege that few people in the world experience.  Who knows why each of us has been given the blessing of time to cultivate our minds? Time is the luxury of the affluent classes. However, to paraphrase an eminent philosopher, “along with great privilege comes great responsibility.” It is entirely your choice to work hard on your assignments, attend class regularly, do your readings, and visit your professors and TAs during office hours.  But, it matters what you choose. Now more than ever, I strongly believe that you and I are morally obliged to make the most of this gift.

One of my favorite passages in the Holy Bible is this: “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, that those who come in may see the light” (Luke 11:33).  What is your light and what do you intend to do with it?

Again, I am glad you are in my class. My office hours are on Tuesdays from 1:30-2:30 and Wednesdays from 2:00 – 4:00, in Nanovic Hall 2080 (a few doors from the Political Science department).

My email address is  You do not need a specific reason to visit me. I am curious to know what’s on your mind.  I may even give advice.

I look forward to meeting each of you soon.

A. James McAdams