BURLINGTON, Vermont — The University of Notre Dame announced its new provost last month, replacing current provost Tom Burish, who is retiring after 15 years as the university’s chief academic officer.

Marie Lynn Miranda, the former provost of Rice University, will assume the position in July. Miranda, a distinguished scholar whose research explores how the environment can impact children’s wellbeing, held teaching and administrative posts at Duke and Michigan before her appointment at Rice. She received her doctoral and master’s degrees in economics from Harvard.

While Miranda said she looks forward to learning more about the university as she approaches her start date in July, she shared some of her outlook on the role of the provost in an interview with Crux.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Crux: Did part of Notre Dame’s appeal to you involve the Catholic identity of the school?

Miranda: Yes. The university talks about educating the mind, body, and spirit of students, and I think lots of universities understand that all three aspects are critically important for students. At Notre Dame, because of the Catholic identity, they go straight at that idea of including spirit in how the education is conceived. And I think lots of other institutions, while they recognize that this other aspect is important, they often go at it sideways, because they don’t have that same base of being a Catholic university, and saying, ‘it’s built into our mission to be including spirit in that mind, body, and spirit educational process.’

So the identity of a Catholic university was very appealing to me. I think there are things that you can do in a Catholic university about educating the whole student and conveying this idea to students and to your faculty colleagues that we bring our whole heart to the work. And you can be very explicit in your language about bringing your whole heart to the work, which is, I think, uniquely possible in the Notre Dame setting.

What are some ways that the Catholic mission can affect the school? Do you see it affecting faculty hiring or what type of research the school takes on?

I think the answer to that question is yes, but it’s hard for me to be specific because… right now I’m trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as possible [about Notre Dame]. I think hiring faculty who care about that mission of educating mind, body, and spirit is important. I think hiring faculty who understand the importance of research and advancing social good will build a stronger university, will build a stronger community amongst us, but also build a stronger university in terms of its impact on the world.

What were some things that you accomplished as a provost of Rice that you were really proud of, and that maybe you would want to continue pursuing at Notre Dame?

We were very successful in increasing the diversity of the faculty, and we took a particular approach which seemed to work well. Notre Dame has already expressed to me an interest in increasing diversity in the faculty, so that’s something I’ll certainly take a look at.

The second thing I would say, and it’s actually quite related to the first thing, we both expanded, in terms of the number of students we serve, and deepened, in terms of the services that were available, the support system for students from low-resource backgrounds. That allowed us to close disparities in graduation rates, and student satisfaction… We put into place a series of support systems for these students, and they’re graduating at the same rate as the background population now, they’re persisting in the fields that they say they’re most interested in at rates that are higher than the background population… there’s nothing that’s showing up in their GPA that would identify them as a kid from a low-resource background, and I feel a lot of pride in that.

And the reason that I say it’s related to the first is that a fair number of our students from low-resource backgrounds also happen to be minorities, and having more faculty on campus who are able to serve as role models for them is very meaningful to them. I know for myself, being both a person of color and being female, when I saw people who were further along in their lives, who were female or brown and doing amazing things, it made me think that maybe that was possible for me too. So I think these two things, increasing the diversity of the faculty and providing a deepened and expanded support system for students from low-resource backgrounds are deeply tied together.

The third thing I would say is that we made some strategic investments in areas where we thought the university could achieve true excellence. We selected those areas, and the faculty very much played a role in helping us identify what some of those areas might be, and the ones that were selected tended to be areas that could lift up multiple departments of the university at the same time. So, we made an investment in equities and inequalities; you can imagine there are faculty all over campus who are interested in that, so you can strengthen multiple departments that way.

Coming in during this time of pandemic must be difficult, with a lot of complex issues facing the administration. Is there anything in particular you’re concerned about as you approach this job?

So, yes, these are challenging times for higher education … I’m not sure there’s one particular thing I’m concerned about. If you’ll let me give some background:

When people talk about developing the budget for the university, I think sometimes people make the mistake of thinking about developing the budget as an exercise in numbers. Like, ‘how do we get the numbers to add up the right way so that the bottom right-hand corner is in the black as opposed to in the red?’ What I think the budget process is about is making the values of the institution come alive. So, it’s really an exercise in taking the values that we express for the institution, and reflecting them in where we’re making our investment.

So, for example, Notre Dame is not going to back away from its financial aid commitment, despite the fact that we know that the economic circumstances are going to create greater demand for financial aid. But we’re just not going to back away from that, because that’s a key value of the institution.

So, back to your question, when I think about that challenge that all universities are facing, I think that universities that have a clear sense of what their values are, and how you make those values come alive, will be better positioned to navigate these challenging times … I recognize that it’s going to be really challenging, I’m grateful that in facing those challenges we’re bringing a clear sense of what our values are to the decision-making.

I understand that we are faced with challenging times in higher education; even before COVID-19, even more so now. I think of Notre Dame as having all the best qualities and values to be able to face those challenges head-on and come out of it a stronger, better university. I couldn’t be more excited about joining Notre Dame.