In response to campus hostility
Freedom of inquiry is central to the very idea of a university. This principle—that students should be able to hold a viewpoint and argue reasonably for it without fear of repression—is what ultimately allows for real learning to take place.
Notre Dame’s Catholic commitment, far from diminishing the value of freedom of inquiry, actually deepens it. Within a Catholic framework, we commit to the existence of objective truth and to man’s ability to grasp it, so the freedom to explore diverse ideas does not exist merely for its own sake, but rather so that the truth might be found within this context.
In addition to giving direction to freedom of inquiry, a commitment to “the pursuit and sharing of the truth for its own sake” also helps sustain this freedom. Confidence in the existence of objective truth forms the basis for hearing out dissenting perspectives, which either lead us to, or sharpen our understanding of, the truth.
Because of these commitments, the woeful state of academic freedom throughout the country should deeply concern Notre Dame. Across all of higher education, speakers are protested and disinvited, and students are silenced in the classroom, all because they have dissented in some way from the dominant socio-political ideology.
Notre Dame has, by and large, remained a place where genuine and fruitful discourse on tough issues can take place. But we should not forget that our University’s unique intellectual openness and inclusive community require intentional cultivation and defense. They don’t just happen, and choices of those within the community can place them at risk.
We were given a troubling reminder of this last week, when a sign containing the words, “There is Queer Blood on Homophobic Hands,” was prominently placed on campus. The words were painted in blood red over several articles from the Rover and the Observer which expressed Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, and implied that these were responsible for the shedding of “queer blood.”
Worse, the names of the articles’ authors—of students, faculty, and alumni of the university—were threateningly circled in red. It was an unmistakable attempt to scare those with differing views (Catholic views, in this case) into silence.
At Notre Dame, under no circumstances should expressing a viewpoint, much less a Catholic one, be equated to committing a heinous crime. The pursuit of truth, central to the idea of a university, should not be hindered by fear of harassment or violence.
It is one thing to promote radically open discussion on difficult topics, where arguments for all sides can be expressed reasonably and weighed charitably. It is quite another to simply allow for any kind of conduct on campus, as if nothing distinguishes a violent display from a reasoned opinion. The first is properly called intellectual freedom; the second amounts to nothing more than chaos.
If someone on campus wants to make reasoned argument for why Catholic doctrine on sexual ethics contributes to high suicide rates within the LGBT community, our Catholic commitment to the truth should encourage us to allow for such a discussion. That is not what happened last Thursday.
The sign placed on campus last week had an aggressive intent directed at particular members of the Notre Dame community, and this kind of conduct has no place on Notre Dame’s campus. Its aim was not to charitably bring others to the truth, but rather to scare them into silence.
The question here is not whether we should allow for non-Catholic viewpoints to be expressed on campus. The question is whether Notre Dame is going to foster true intellectual freedom, where the pursuit of truth reigns, or mere intellectual chaos, where the will of the powerful prevails.
The rest of the country seems to have endorsed the latter, with dire consequences. Notre Dame must not do the same.
Nicolas Abouchedid is a junior studying in the Program of Liberal Studies, with minors in philosophy and Chinese. He is originally from, and one day hopes to return to, Caracas, Venezuela. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.