Advice in the Age of the Coronavirus

Welcome to Notre Dame!  You could not have made a better choice than to join our community.  At the moment, it seems like you could not have come at a more turbulent period in world history.  I am not referring to COVID alone.  I am also thinking about the deep social and economic disparities in our society, racial injustice, the contemporary challenges to 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.

You and I are living through this global crisis together.  I am glad you are here to share some of this experience.

Now that you are at Notre Dame, here are some words of advice:

No one will contest the severity of the multiple crises through which we are living.  They will have deep, lasting impacts on each of us as well as on our families, friends, everyone we encounter, and people we will never meet.  At the same time, we can regard them as opportune moments to learn about the world in ways that were unavailable to past decades of Notre Dame students.  Read this article about the value of “roads” to get a sense for what I mean: HERE

A first opportunity. The themes in this course are directly related to what we are experiencing today.  As you will see over the coming weeks, 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 (some day!) and cultures, and reflecting on what you learn from other students and professors.

A second opportunity:  Since I am a professor 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”), I have also designed this course to allow you to reflect upon the faith and values of a Catholic university.  In the name of maintaining “objectivity” and “neutrality,” professors at many universities are often reluctant to raise questions about divisive issues about how we should live our lives and how we should treat others, let alone say where they stand.  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. I will hold them on Zoom.  It is possible that at some point we will be able to meet in person.  Alas, I cannot say when this will be.

My email address is  You do not need a specific reason to Zoom office hours with me. I am curious to know what’s on your mind.

I look forward to meeting each of you soon.

A. James McAdams