As Aubreanna Bobb was growing up, her father told her how close he and his Notre Dame classmates had been to their professors. The first time she visited South Bend as a kid, they even stayed with one of her dad’s old college teachers.
Still, by the time she became a Domer herself, Bobb thought those days had passed. “I thought that was back in the day,” the senior says. “No one has close relationships anymore—that’s just a fable. So good job, Dad, you were one of the few.”
Then Bobb’s professor moved into her dorm, and her perspective swiftly changed.
That man was Ed Hums: the only lay faculty member to live on the Notre Dame campus in recent memory. In August, the popular accounting professor made a big commitment by moving into Lyons Hall, a women’s dorm, with the patient wife he calls “Saint Shirley.”
Bringing a professor onto campus in this modern age would prove to be more interesting than Hums, his wife, the students, and perhaps even the University expected.
Notre Dame has a long history of professors living among their students. The University president, Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., is still housed within the Fischer O’Hara-Grace Graduate Residences complex, and numerous fellow priests remain scattered around campus.
In decades past, unmarried faculty members including Frank O’Malley, Joe Evans and Paul Fenlon kept single rooms in various halls as well. They were considered “the Bachelor Dons.”
The dons were laymen. But students of Notre Dame history such as Vince Gratzer, creator of the popular website Irish Legends, say they “had an almost religious devotion to not merely instructing, but also guiding, advising, civilizing and ultimately enlightening their students.”
As such men died off, they were never replaced. The last of them, Fenlon, passed away in 1980. It had been years since a lay professor lived among the students.
But in the past decade or so, schools including Georgetown and Catholic University had placed faculty members back on campus. Dozens of other colleges were experimenting with fostering more professor-student fellowship, too.
Last April, David Moss, then-Notre Dame’s assistant vice president for student affairs, called Hums into his office. “We have an opportunity for you,” Moss began.
Hums braced himself. “Whenever you hear that, you’re a little leery,” he says.
Moss’ pitch included a customized on-campus apartment, free food and a hallside parking spot. And his timing was right. In May, Hums turned 60 and had open-heart surgery, limiting his ability to do, say, strenuous yard work. It seemed like the moment for he and Shirley to make a few changes.
Work began last summer on what would be the Hums’ apartment. A suite under Lyons Hall’s famous arch—a space that had once housed up to seven students—was remodeled to suit a married couple.
The kitchen was enlarged and new appliances were installed. The place was fully furnished; the Humses would keep their house in Mishawaka and leave their major belongings there.
The under-arch suite would head off any embarrassments. Hums, after all, is a middle-aged man living in a 180-woman dorm. The suite’s special location and separate entrance would ensure that no one roaming the halls in a bathrobe would run into her professor.
Some key advice helped Hums avoid another potential pitfall. Since time immemorial, rectors have kept order in the Notre Dame halls. Mendoza’s Director of Finance and Administration, Rev. Mark Thesing, C.S.C., had filled that position for seven years in Keenan Hall. Hums asked Thesing how a live-in faculty member should relate to a rector.
The priest was frank: The rector should have command. Hums has tried to live that out with Lyons Hall rector Meghan Brown. Though Brown is decades younger, she is an accomplished law school grad, and her age makes her approachable to students. “She’s the captain,” Hums says. “Now I might be an admiral taking a ride. But she’s in charge.”
For a couple used to owning their own home, there have been technical issues living back in a dorm. When they moved in, for instance, the AC conked out for nearly a week in the 90-degree temps. The hot water went off for another three days. Even now, the AC buzzes during this interview, loudly and unstoppably.
The least fixable problem has been that college students live near-nocturnally. And at Lyons, students often return from weekend parties at 3 or 4 a.m. and hang out under the iconic arch—right outside the Humses’ apartment.
The couple have no white-noise machine or other way of blocking out the socializing. So Saint Shirley lives up to her nickname. Despite her 8 a.m. workday start at the Joyce Center, she tends to endure it all quietly.
Even though the students stay up late, Hums reports that they work hard. For one thing, he’s been surprised at how scheduled the undergraduates are compared to his student days. Through the Lyons email listserv, he and Shirley receive at least five emails each day with announcements and events—and those are just for dorm-related activities.
The students’ schedules and workloads are more intense than he thought, Hums has realized. “One of the misconceptions