Father Miscamble has publicly stated that he is “required to end my involvement with the NDCatholic site and am not at liberty to say why.” Nor does he appear to be at liberty to say who is requiring him to stand down (and to say nothing further about it). But everyone in this university community—especially but not only every faculty member—should want to know the answer to that question. For we have here a grave incursion upon academic freedom. The website has to do with the academic life of Notre Dame. It is meant to help guide students in selecting courses that would contribute to their obtaining a genuinely Catholic education at this Catholic university. Father Miscamble was instrumental in getting the site up and running. In doing so, he exercised professional judgment about academic matters. Even someone who thought the effort imperfect, or doubted its overall usefulness, should not doubt his right to act upon his own judgment about how best to serve Our Lady’s University. Academic freedom means at least that much.
But someone in authority has overridden Fr. Miscamble’s professional judgment and ordered him to cease and desist and to be silent about who, or why. There are really just two possible sources of this command. One is the university or, more exactly, someone in the higher reaches of Notre Dame’s administration. If the provost or the president or some other officer is the commanding authority, then he or she must say so immediately, and explain why this extraordinary action was taken. If transparency and accountability are anything more than glib slogans at Notre Dame, then ordering a senior professor to be silent must be publicly explained and justified (if it can be). Anything less is cowardly. And if the university had nothing to do with Fr. Miscamble’s silencing, then the university ought to publicly announce that fact right away.
The only other possible source of this command to stand down and to be silent is a religious superior within the Congregation of Holy Cross. The vow of obedience that Fr. Miscamble made is essential to the life of his religious community. It is admirable that he honors that vow in these circumstances (if that is what’s going on). Even so, the exercise of religious authority—again, if it is so—concerning Fr. Miscamble’s work on NDCatholic nonetheless represents such an extraordinary intervention in the academic life of our university that it too calls for explanation and justification. Indeed, such an exercise of religious authority would seem to be exactly the sort of “external” ecclesiastical interference in academic life that Father Hesburgh (among others) so famously denounced in the 1967 Land o’ Lakes Statement.
The university ought to defend the academic freedom of its faculty members—including those professors who are priests or religious—by stating publicly that it is seeking a formal accounting from the religious superior who (by hypothesis, for the moment) ordered Fr. Miscamble’s silence. The university ought also to commit itself to sharing the results of its inquiry with the entire academic community.
Gerard V. Bradley is Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame.