On Saturday July 11, the Notre Dame community lost another one of its beloved members: Emil T. Hofman. Emil graduated from Notre Dame in 1962 with a Ph.D in chemistry and then went on to teach chemistry for almost forty years. Estimates suggest that he taught over thirty two thousand students during his time at Notre Dame. Hofman was appointed dean of the First Year of Studies in 1971 and served for almost twenty years.
Hofman’s general chemistry class was notorious for being extremeley challenging. In Notre Dame Magazine, Brendan O’Shaughnessy explained that despite the difficult class, alums remember him in a positive light because “…he embodied the Notre Dame spirit of tough love: a professor who demanded excellence in the classroom and worked just as hard outside of it to make them love the University as he did.”
In an interview this fall as a part of the “On the Sidelines” lecture series, Hofman cited his most important contribution to higher education was as the dean of the First Year of Studies. In 1971, Hesburgh appointed Hofman to be dean in order to help with the transition to a coed campus in 1972. Hesburgh explained his decision to have Hofman lead the First Year of Studies as women came to campus to O’Shaughnessy, stating, “I wanted Emil because he was tradition here. He was totally dedicated to Notre Dame and always available to his students. And he was a very strong force.”
Not only did he help with the transition of bringing women to campus, but he helped created a holistic and broad curriculum for First Years, which also allowed them to delay the choice of a major until sophomore year. In this interview, Hofman explained that he really wanted to work towards helping students decide what they wanted to do because only about 20% of students know what it is that they may like when they graduate high school. In doing this and creating a counseling program for freshman, Hofman hoped to and succeeded in reducing the number of attritions in the freshman class to less than 1%.
After retiring in 1990, Hofman remained active on campus and abroad. He was involved with the Notre Dame Haiti Program, which works to fight Lymphatic Filariasis in Haiti by administering drugs, producing and distributing co-fortified salt and healing symptoms of those with LF. Gene Stowe recently wrote about how Hofman led over twelve “Hofman Reconnaissance Trips” there, many with former students who went on to become medical school professors, surgeons, emergency room physicians, anesthesiologists, pediatricians and more.
On campus, Hofman was known for sitting on a certain bench by Main Building and engaging students and alum in conversation. His impact on the Notre Dame community has been clear to me since deciding to major in pre-health studies. Countless alum and current faculty have mentioned his name and class to me, and I wish I had the opportunity to have a conversation with him when he was alive. If you can, take some time to learn more about Hofman and his work by reading a few of the pieces that have been written about him. He is truly a domer to be remembered.