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February proves an embarrassment to the University

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Generally speaking, I am more than glad that Notre Dame is not Berkeley, Cali. For one thing, our winters are not conducive to a naked man lounging around Main Circle. But more generally, that either body should feel compelled to become more like the other is plainly ridiculous and probably elitist. Berkeley may be the quintessential American university, but only a fool would ignore the fact that every college has a distinct value. All this having been said, there is nonetheless a common character and purpose that all universities share.

February has been a month of controversies brought to our attention. We had the Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival, the academically suppressive ranting of a bishop and the violent domestic dealings of one ex-Trustee. At a healthy school – not necessarily a Berkeley, but a school that reflects the character and personality of an authentic university – any one these events might have been met with opposition. At Notre Dame they were met with a whimper and a sigh, or with nothing at all.

Some people claim Notre Dame has an overly conservative student body. If this were true, then the Monologues and the Film Festival would have found themselves facing a strong conservative opposition. Instead they found 15 sign-waving protestors standing outside of South Dining Hall. The Queen Mother of anti-Marian feminist trash talk (apparently this is the conservative view of Ensler) storms the city of God, and 0.14 percent of the campus rises up in protest. A spectacular event, dwarfed by Rudy Ruettiger’s last book signing.

But from the same point of view, one cannot say Notre Dame has an overly liberal student body. If this were true, then where was the great outrage over the bishop placing Notre Dame departmental presentations on his personal index of banned books? Why are pro-choice, pro-gay or anti-war sentiments met with, at best, casual interest (sometimes in the form of mockery) or at worst, total indifference?

The truth of the matter is that, almost without exception, the best that Notre Dame students can muster against almost anything, for one reason or another, they find objectionable is a handful of angry Viewpoint letters, and if we are lucky, a couple of weeks of smoldering resentment, before we slip back into complacency. And while I support events like the Monologues, I find it incredulous that our campus cannot even muster an outcry against something that, in the eyes of a nontrivial portion of our student body, represents a direct attack against our core values and beliefs. To be perfectly honest, I find the whole affair to be both pathetic and embarrassing.

Are we even a University anymore? I mean this quite seriously. I can still recall a speech that University President Father Edward Malloy made during opening events when I was a freshman. He remarked it is one of the functions of a university to cause students to question their deeply held beliefs, that in questioning them, and eventually understanding them, what they end up holding they might believe in truth. A university, by definition, weighs, reacts to and judges the world. Yes I see precious little of this at Notre Dame, and in the face of our complacency, I wonder if the students here actually believe in anything.

Sure, we talk as though we care about events taking place around us. One will find no shortage of symposiums, panels and artistic events, where students can discuss significant issues with deliberation, and then promptly forget them the moment they return to their normal lives. It is a truism that actions are more important than words, and that the day-to-day is more significant that the occasional, but our student body has no actions to backup our “deep-held beliefs,” and in no way expresses these beliefs in it day-to-day affairs.

Take our student government. That body spends weeks upon weeks debating a plan to afford students the luxury of purchasing four fewer meals each weeks, while it continually ignores the more significant questions of whether or not it has any relevance to students anymore or whether it is merely a source of bureaucracy and the consoling illusion that students have a real voice. If we were to lose our “representation” tomorrow, would it mean anything? Would anyone care?

I wonder, should the worst-case scenario arise and Notre Dame students become forced to take a stand for what they believe in (be it liberal, conservative or otherwise), would anyone have the courage to do so? Is it worth it to any of us to give up friends, or respect, or the livelihood of our college degree for such a cause? Has the University instilled in us the essential character, the necessary virtue, to be this kind of a believer, or have the empty goals of our “credentials generation” and the thousand little ways in which we are encouraged to be complacent destroyed this? Is Notre Dame a university anymore?

Lance Gallop is a fifth-year senior majoring in computer science, philosophy and theology. He can be contacted at lgallop@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.