Though recent attention has been paid to the departure of Roxanne Martino from the Notre Dame Board of Trustees, only one group has called attention to an arguably much more important departure from the board, that of Dr. Marye Anne Fox, chancellor of the University of California at San Diego and a staunch proponent of embryonic stem cell research.

Martino, a successful business executive and Notre Dame alumna, resigned from the board of trustees about a month after the announcement of her appointment as news of her donations to pro-choice groups surfaced.  The affair was highly publicized.  Publications like the CHICAGO TRIBUNE AND HUFFINGTON POST highlighted Martino’s resignation in addition to the coverage one might expect from the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER and the Cardinal Newman Society.

In contrast, the Sycamore Trust, an alumni group dedicated to the preservation of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, discovered Fox’s departure from the board only when they inquired when Fox would stand for re-election.  Though this withdrawal was less publicized, Fox has undoubtedly had the greater impact on the board’s decisions during her tenure.

As THE ROVER has reported in the past, Fox’s record as a proponent of embryonic stem cell research is well-documented.

In academia, Fox is a founder of the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, which brought the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, The Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego together for the purpose of embryonic stem cell research.

In the political sphere, Fox’s activism has included support for Proposition 71, a California amendment to promote and fund embryonic stem cell research, in 2004.  She also signed a petition to advance the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, a congressional bill that called for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

The university awarded Fox an honorary degree in 2008.  She delivered the graduate school’s commencement speech.

When the Sycamore Trust inquired about Fox, University Spokesman Dennis Brown responded, “Dr. Fox no longer is a member of the board. Beyond that, we’ll have nothing to add.”

Fox’s resignation was not mentioned in the university’s May 10 press release on changes to the board.  As of June 10, she was listed as a member of the board on both the university’s website and BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK.

According to Brown, Fox’s term expired in April.  “We generally update various lists once a year, in mid-August,” he told the Sycamore Trust.

Brown declined to comment on Fox’s service on the board of trustees or the circumstances surrounding her departure.  She was subsequently elected to the Dartmouth College Board of Trustees.

Fox’s 11-year tenure on the board raises serious questions about the board of trustees’ commitment to the university’s mission.  She was re-elected over the years to yield considerable power in the governance of the university.  Her history of championing embryonic stem cell research can be found via a preliminary Google search.  Both the current board’s own commitment and university policies regarding the selection of its trustees should be scrutinized.

Many debates in political sphere and perhaps even in the governance of a university are a matter of prudential judgment about how best to further the common good within a particular set of circumstances.  Administrators don’t typically debate whether plagiarism is wrong, for example, but that doesn’t preclude heated debates over the detailed policies of an academic honor code.

Likewise, however complex the challenges that Notre Dame faces today, certain core principles ought to be non-negotiable.

The university’s mission statement asserts, “A Catholic university draws its basic inspiration from Jesus Christ as the source of wisdom and from the conviction that in him all things can be brought to their completion. As a Catholic university, Notre Dame wishes to contribute to this educational mission.”

What could be more essential to an institution inspired by the person of Christ than respect for the dignity of the human person?  What is more fundamental to the university’s commitment to service than the defense of the most vulnerable members of our society?

Here at Notre Dame, we rightly cherish the famous picture of Fr. Hesburgh marching arm in arm with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Marching against the fashionable orthodoxies of one’s day is never easy, but Notre Dame can take the next step towards recognizing the brotherhood of all mankind, fulfilling Fr. Sorin’s vision of the university as a “powerful force for good.”

Claire Gillen is a senior history major who resides in Welsh Family Hall.  Contact her at