Were Views of Pro-Life Notre Dame Officials, Professors Suppressed on Obama?

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   May 26, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Were Views of Pro-Life Notre Dame Officials, Professors Suppressed on Obama?

by Brian Simboli
May 26, 2009

LifeNews.com Note: Brian Simboli has a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame and an undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College.

It is not hard to learn about visible aspect of the recent protests at Notre Dame. A Google search informs us of a significant number of arrests, including the arrest of an elderly priest.

We learn of an alternative commencement. There is an account of discriminatory treatment of a pro-lifer by police that, if true, certainly merits investigation.

But easy to miss, tucked away in some editorials, are some very disturbing testimonials attributed to Notre Dame faculty members and a university administrator. These testimonials, if accurate, bespeak silent protest, unarticulated because careers are at stake.

The first appears in an article available online and in the print edition of Wall Street Journal:

"at Notre Dame today, there is no pro-life organization — in size, in funding, in prestige — that compares with the many centers, institutes and so forth dedicated to other important issues ranging from peace and justice to protecting the environment. Perhaps this explains why a number of pro-life professors tell me they must not be quoted by name, lest they face career retaliation."

A second testimonial appeared in National Review, written by Notre Dame alumnus and journalist Freddoso, describing administrators who were critical of Father Jenkins’s decision to confer the honorary doctor on Obama.

According to Freddoso, "even some university administrators sympathized, with a handful of recognizable figures attending ND Response events over the weekend. Few wanted to discuss the issue publicly, however. ‘It has been made clear that dissenting publicly won’t be tolerated,’ said one administrator who requested anonymity."

If accurate, these testimonials make one wonder if an atmosphere of intimidation now inhibits free and honest expression—and exploration–of views consonant with the tradition that Notre Dame purports to represent. Were these testimonials off-the-cuff, purely situational remarks in response to the recent events? Or do they point to something deeper, something structural?

Two more questions arise. If this is happening at Notre Dame, then at what other Catholic universities and colleges is this also occurring? And isn’t this just the sort of pressure to conform that mars many secular universities, leading one to wonder: what is now distinctive about the intellectual atmosphere at University of Notre Dame, or any number of other Catholic schools?

The most systematic way to explore the pressures that face traditionally minded pro-lifer faculty or administrators, like those who would criticize the policies of a Jenkins, is through a survey or interviews. Unfortunately, the very reluctance of people to disclose their pro-life views may also make it hard to conduct such research. The attitudes of truly pro-life faculty members and administrators are, in any case, very worthy of study, however it proves possible to accomplish. Such research could certainly provide interesting sociological insight into the deep rift displayed last weekend for all the world to see, and how individuals in higher education are dealing with it. It would also provide a barometer of much larger sociological trends in Catholicism.

If in fact there is intimidation of the kind conveyed in the testimonials, such a study might also reveal the steep costs of trying to work in such an atmosphere. For example, on the face of it, one could not expect very much by way of creative, countercultural, and bold scholarship, or intellectual leadership, faithful to the Catholic tradition, to emanate in such an atmosphere. (Except, perhaps, on the part of a few independent and strong-willed persons —with tenure– or persons unconcerned about the future courses of their careers.)

Aside from its effects on faculty, what effects might such an atmosphere have on students eager to learn about the best goods of the tradition? Will they have to make extraordinary effort to create a schedule of classes that includes ones taught by professors who can teach them solid Catholic philosophy and theology? If they are not majoring in such fields as philosophy or theology, will there be enough responsibly taught courses that students can accommodate them in their schedules?

Whatever the reality at Notre Dame with respect to the issue of intimidation, one thing is clear. The testimonials mentioned above certainly clash with the attitudes of the university president as expressed in an article from “ND Newswire”, dated 5/17, titled: "Presidents Obama and Jenkins stress importance of dialogue at 164th Commencement".

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