Fifty Irish Rover articles and four years ago, I set foot on Notre Dame’s campus for the first time as a student. Now I write my final article as a member of the Rover’s editorial staff.
In the past year, I’ve tried to grow the Rover as a campus actor and as a community while sustaining and improving the paper’s quality of reporting and editorial writing. We’ve expanded our online presence significantly—drawing nearly 9,000 visitors to our website in March, and establishing social media outreach—and have revamped the paper’s aesthetics in an effort to make the Rover a central and attractive voice in campus discussions.
I have tried to draw attention (however imperfectly) to the dynamics that infect university life and threaten the university’s intellectual apostolate, while at the same time growing the paper as a community and a campus actor. To the latter end, the Rover has sponsored or cosponsored a number of popular events this year, public and private, the purposes of which have been the enfranchisement of Catholic student leadership at Notre Dame, and a deeper intellectual and vocational engagement with the pressing needs of leadership and witness.
To the former end, I’ve focused in my writing on Notre Dame’s pervasive careerist culture; administrative failures to offer “uncompromising witness … to the Church’s moral teaching,” as Pope Francis challenged it to do in January; on pastorally disastrous strategies that harm the very students they are meant to serve; on typical campus assumptions and habits that inhibit healthy relationships; and on the treasure trove of formative and discernment opportunities offered by various departments, institutes, and the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Above all, I’ve sought to ground the paper’s identity in its mission to defend and uphold the Catholic mission and character of the university we are serving. Vague insults from the editorial members of the Observer aside, the Rover provides a much-needed complementarity to campus discussion, and endeavors to be a thoughtful forum that engages concrete issues rigorously from an informed Catholic perspective.
The written word is proving an ever more powerful tool in this century of the media; platforms for self-expression abound, whether in the form of 140 characters, a self-made blog or an independent campus publication. Organized, polished, thoughtful communication is essential to the flourishing of the intellectual community here at Notre Dame, and I’ve tried to deepen the Rover’s participation as a well-respected contributor to campus dialogue.
Working with the paper for four years has also afforded me insight into what is, by far, the most alarming dimension of Notre Dame’s present situation: the administration’s rigid opaqueness and refusal to render publicly accountable its rationale and decision-making vis-à-vis Notre Dame’s Catholic character. This total lack of transparency allows the administration to operate relatively autonomously: Since students and professors alike are largely left in the dark concerning central decision-making, those constituents cannot directly criticize the rationale. We can only question, and be suspicious of, the opaqueness.
One of the university’s highest-level administrators, a Vice President, told me very frankly in the fall that he ignores my media requests for comment—which simply take the form of, “How does this or that action or decision comport with the university’s mission statement and Catholic identity?”—because he “feels trapped by the questions.” Another Vice President recently informed me that her schedule for the next four weeks does not admit of a 20-minute space in which to have a brief conversation about her administrative decisions.
Ask a question of an administrator about how Notre Dame’s decisions comport with its Catholic character, and you are sure to receive either no response, no response of any substance, or a confused response.
This confusion runs all the way to the top of the university. Witness Fr. Jenkins’s answer to a question he was posed in February at the Town Hall meeting, concerning the university’s decision to comply with the HHS mandate:
“Our complicity is not an evil so grave that we would compromise our conscience by going along,” Fr. Jenkins said on February 24 at Washington Hall. “I don’t see this as a scandal because we are not giving out contraceptives.”
Yet Fr. Jenkins and Notre Dame argued precisely the opposite points in their lawsuit requests as reasons for seeking relief, which the judges rejected in part due to a perceived lack of sincerity on Notre Dame’s part.
Not many influential administrators at Notre Dame are possessed of a coherent vision of what it means to be a Catholic university, or have much of an idea in what the university’s institutional vocation as an intellectual apostolate essentially consists.
The Irish Rover is trying to do something about that fact, with professionalism and clarity. As I move forward from my time with the paper, I know that next year’s staff will continue to take up this challenge.
It behooves a watchdog to bark. Good Rover.
Michael Bradley lives in Dillon Hall and is graduating in May with a BA in philosophy & theology. Contact him at email@example.com.