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Administration defines academic freedom

Letter to the Editor | Friday, February 17, 2006

I have followed with some interest the discussion in the Viewpoint section on academic freedom at Notre Dame and other, secular, universities. However, I believe certain participants in this discussion have made a subtle but important category mistake.

For example, Professor Gary Anderson discusses the case of a prominent Oberlin professor who was “subject to terrible harassment” for espousing views critical of “the normalization of homosexual behaviour” (“Lessons from other universities,” Feb. 15). While I hope readers across the political spectrum can agree this was, prima facie, an incident of terrible injustice, it seems to me to be completely irrelevant to the issue of academic freedom – unless Oberlin has an official or unofficial policy of discriminating against people with these particular views (which strikes me as highly unlikely), the harassment was no doubt carried out by individuals, not the administration as such.

By contrast, the issue at Notre Dame is whether it is consistent with justice for our administration to systematically restrict the expression, outside of a narrowly-construed “academic” context, of views that are thought to differ from official Church doctrine (whether this difference actually rises to the level of contradiction or not). Thus, whether it is consistent with justice for the administration to bar “The Vagina Monologues” from using theatre spaces on campus and raising funds for local rape crisis centers; or whether it is consistent with justice for the administration to forbid the formation of student organizations based on support for access to abortion or the “normalization of homosexual behaviour;” or whether it is consistent with justice for the administration to adopt policies that would recognize the reality of sex, both consensual and otherwise, among the student body (pun intended).

Certainly the incidence of discrimination by individuals at other, secular, universities is a mark against those schools. But this does not imply the administration of these universities restricts social conservatives the way the Notre Dame administration is thought by many to restrict social liberals; nor does it imply that it’s somehow just for Notre Dame to tilt the scales in favor of social conservatives because they are discriminated against elsewhere.

Dan Hicksgraduate studentdepartment of philosophy Feb. 16