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Revocation should not discourage ND

| Thursday, September 23, 2004

When a professor charged with enhancing dialogue between the worlds of east and west at one of the world’s premier Catholic universities is accused of consorting with terrorists, the academic community turns up its ears.

Tariq Ramadan was hired by Notre Dame to call into focus centuries of theological and cultural differences that have become very real and very immediate to our world today. In the process, he has found himself embroiled in an academic conflict all his own. The U.S. State Department, at the behest of the Department of Homeland Security, revoked Ramadan’s work visa just days before he and his family were scheduled to leave their home in Switzerland for a new one in South Bend. According to the University, neither government agency has provided it or, by proxy, the student body, with concrete evidence as to why Ramadan has not been allowed to enter the United States.

Many believe he government has every right to withhold sensitive intelligence from the public in order to ensure the safety of Americans at home and abroad. In doing so, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department may have an unequivocally valid claim for barring Ramadan’s entrance to the United States. If the scholar does, indeed, pose enough of a threat to the well-being of the country as a whole to justify his visa revocation, the government should be praised for its vigilance.

However, there is more at stake in the case of Ramadan than the work visa of a single man. While we cannot conclude whether the government acted justly or unjustly because of the many gaps within the story, many scholars believe academic freedom is at stake. They contend that by revoking Ramadan’s visa, the government is effectively attempting to silence the voice of an individual whose background runs contrary to its own, and using the mantle of the Patriot Act to do so.

Whether valid or invalid, the government’s claims against Ramadan bring to the forefront the issues of discourse and engagement. Students, faculty and members of the University community should evaluate their own claims to academic freedom. Given the strength of our democracy and the freedom of speech which we defend so fiercely, America’s universities, particularly Notre Dame, should be places where open discourse and continual dialogue are both cherished and encouraged. If individuals who espouse divergent views are suppressed, conflicts will neither be understood nor resolved, and education will suffer.

The University has stood by Ramadan and its decision to hire him from the moment his visa revocation was announced. By showing public support for the scholar in such a widely discussed controversy, University officials have demonstrated Notre Dame’s devotion to academic freedom and educational justice. Their efforts have been laudable, and it should continue this quest for answers. It should not allow the issue to be buried under bureaucracy.

The ramifications of Ramadan’s visa revocation go far beyond that of a single professor at a single university. The University should not let this incident set a precedent in its recruitment and hiring philosophy, nor let it discourage Notre Dame from seeking out or hiring diverse or controversial scholars, for it is only through exposure to a breadth of views and experiences that understanding and true education can occur.