Since we last published a month ago, there have been a number of interesting campus happenings. So, with my penultimate editorial as Editor-In-Chief of the Rover, I want to address some of these concerning campus trends.
Ann Coulter’s visit to campus
Full disclosure: I had never heard of Ann Coulter prior the campus buzz surrounding her invitation to Notre Dame on behalf of the Notre Dame College Republicans to speak at the annual Lincoln Day Dinner. But some research and reading later, I have difficulty discerning why Coulter makes an ideal candidate to speak to members of the College Republicans on this campus. With respect to what political or cultural issue(s) is Coulter better qualified or better equipped to discourse than other conservative figures who are not nearly so incendiary and polemical? I fear that the College Republicans are doing themselves a disservice, and making themselves easy targets for criticism and caricature, by hosting Coulter on campus, where the state of civil discourse is already bad enough. Within the arenas of political and ideological controversy, presenting oneself or one’s constituency as being of good faith and goodwill is difficult enough. This decision will not bear much good fruit for either the College Republicans or the Notre Dame community.
A final note: One student who has ardently called for the rescindment of Coulter’s invitation in an Observer column claims that “as a Catholic university, we are all better than honoring a woman who so clearly contradicts Notre Dame and all that it stands for.” How ironic that this student (I adduce from her other Observer writings), as well as others who agree with her Coulter treatment, would defend Notre Dame’s 2009 invitation to Barack Obama.
The conversation about marriage at Notre Dame
Speaking of civil discourse, the slew of Observer Viewpoints that have addressed marriage-related topics in the past month betray an almost unique failure in understanding and charity. For all their touted accomplishments, many students at Notre Dame—or at least those who choose to pursue discussion through op-eds, which is admittedly a small sample size—evince little to no understanding of what principles “the other side” is committed to when it comes to marriage and related civil and legal topics.
This illusion, or self-delusion, of knowledge cripples active investigation into the worldview in light of which fellow students are so passionate about this issue. In the name of a more civil and fruitful discourse, more students should make an effort to get inside the fundamental commitments according to which someone else’s (differing) perspective on marriage and the family is intelligible as something other than ill-will or “bigotry.” As things stand, few student advocates indicate much commitment to dialogue, civility or pluralism—each while claiming these values for her own side and castigating the other side for lacking them. Would that more members of the Notre Dame community took a leaf out of President Obama’s book in recognizing that people of reason and goodwill occupy both sides of this debate.
A group of students is trying to effect such an exchange of intellectual empathy through its programming, including Monday evening’s program—“Marriage, the Church, and the Common Good: Philosophical, Pastoral, and Social Reflections”—and two conferences that will be held here on April 3 and 4-5: “For Richer, For Poorer, For Marriage: The Definition and Importance of Civil Marriage,” and “The Family in History and Modern Society,” respectively, both at McKenna Conference Center. The video recording of the former event will be online shortly, and registration for the latter two can be found here.
Anyone interested in signing a petition addressed to Father Jenkins and other administrators, urging them to take public and sustained action in defense of the Catholic vision of marriage that the Church and Notre Dame both espouse, can also do so at the Rover’s website.
It’s an annual phenomenon that is as reliable as the sun’s rising: Students will complain about meat not being served in the dining halls on Fridays. Some of these students are Catholic. To these I say: Life’s pretty tough as a Notre Dame student, and this unjust mortification is simply another in a long line of physically grueling punishments to which we’re put by virtue of attending school here.
In response to the March 17 marriage panel, I received several angry emails from alums who claimed that Notre Dame is clearly no longer committed to academic freedom. In what did they ground this claim? The fact that all four panelists on Monday hold Catholic teaching on marriage to be true. One of my interlocutors went so far as to call Notre Dame a “Magisterium Protection Society.”
Behind these claims and others like them is a lurking proposition concerning where, exactly, a commitment to “academic freedom” fits into a Catholic university’s broader mission and institutional vocation. Sadly, the proposition is that a Catholic university’s mission can be reduced to its commitment to fostering “academic freedom.”
It is difficult to understand what is meant by academic freedom, but if we have it at Notre Dame, it doesn’t mean that all professors are free to espouse their professional opinions on matters scholarly and public without repercussion: It’s an open secret that the tenure process includes political and popular elements and considerations as well as academic ones. The administration finds ways to professionally marginalize tenured professors who cross the party lines. Such marginalization takes many forms: minimal pay raise, no sabbatical, no promotion to academic committees, no university dollars sent the way of one’s institute or organization.
Presumably, these actions are not unique to Notre Dame, but surely they are constraints on the common understanding of academic freedom. Maybe we would be better off guiding the limitless bounds of academic inquiry according to a reasonable mission—say, a Catholic mission and institutional vocation to educate the mind, body and spirit in the Catholic tradition—rather than popularity, politics and profit.
Blue is the Warmest Color
On Valentine’s day weekend, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) featured the film Blue is the Warmest Color. Blue has been critically-acclaimed as a realistic, modern love story, taking home a plethora of prizes from various film festivals.
Its plot? A French minor (15) falls in love with and enters into a sexual relationship with an older female student.
One film sequence features a 10-minute sex scene between the two women, a scene that has been described by the lesbian author of the graphic novel on which the film was based as “pornographic,” and which has been described by various movie critics as “extremely voyeuristic.” The two lead actresses have revealed in an interview that they would never work with the director a second time and were very uncomfortable during its filming: One described it as “horrible” and the other emphasized, “We were really suffering.”
DPAC’s Mission Statement reads in part, “The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center facilitates learning reflective of Notre Dame’s distinctive liberal arts tradition through the informed exploration of universal truths and beauty.”
DPAC Senior Associate Director Ted Barron explained in an email to the Rover that “The cinema’s curatorial process involves many factors. To decide which films will be screened at the cinema, we review journals … preview films at film festivals and consult peer academic institutions. Blue is the Warmest Color was selected as part of the Browning Cinema’s Spring 2014 season because it is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year.”
“The cinema’s partnerships with academic departments … directly support the University’s academic and Catholic mission,” Barron concluded.
Blue is indeed one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. But when asked in what way the showing of Blue “directly supports” the university’s Catholic mission and what in the curatorial process bespoke an engagement with Notre Dame’s Catholic mission as opposed to entirely secular standards, Barron replied, “I have nothing more to add.” In response to the same questions, university spokesperson Dennis Brown echoed, “We have nothing further to add.”
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This occasion illustrates the larger problem. The administration is unsure of how to reconcile its commitments to freedom of thought and expression on the one hand and its commitment to Catholic mission on the other. The administration’s unwillingness (or outright refusal, as is often the case) to make its rationale concerning this tension transparent and public only suggests that it has no real idea how to integrate Catholic values and academic values. But doing just this is the province and project of the Catholic university.
The first facet of Father Jenkins’s recently-announced strategic plan “A Legacy Expanded” is “to ensure that our Catholic character informs all our endeavors.” One hopes that the administration reflects more seriously on how to do so.
Michael Bradley is a senior studying philosophy and theology living in Dillon Hall. Contact him at email@example.com.