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Pandora’s box

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, April 6, 2006

University President Father John Jenkins attempted to close Pandora’s Box in his “Closing Statement on Academic Freedom and Catholic Character.” I, for one, had hoped that the University community would cultivate the discussion that arose out of Jenkins’ speech on January 23, 2006 into a broad dialogue encompassing topics well beyond the initial issues. There are many policies existing at the University of Notre Dame, both official and unofficial, that are repugnant to Catholic doctrines. However, now that we’ve “settled” the gender issues, Jenkins seems unwilling to tackle any of the more difficult topics.

Take, for example, the University’s position on the war in Iraq. Oh yes, the University most definitely has a position, which it clearly expresses through the Notre Dame ROTC Program. Now, anyone perceived as critical of the ROTC program opens himself up to a tidal wave of counter-attacks of being “unpatriotic,” etc. In order to keep the focus on the real issue, academic freedom, I would like to clarify that I am not criticizing the ROTC program, only using it as a barometer of the University’s support for the war. The University not only allows, but encourages the armed forces to recruit students and prospective students into the ROTC program. The University works in conjunction with the ROTC program to use University land, facilities and staff to promote and execute that recruitment (these same things constituted “sponsorship” with regards to the Queer Film Festival and Vagina Monologues).

The University does this in spite of Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy’s unequivocal sponsorship for the Vatican’s position that the war in Iraq does not comport with Catholic doctrine of just war. The University backs the war notwithstanding the fact that the Catholic Church considers it immoral, but withdrew its “sponsorship” for the Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival because the Catholic Church considers them immoral.

This apparent incongruity begs the question: what is so different about the war that President Jenkins closes debate before our community can discuss its place within the University’s Catholic character? If any issue merits vigorous debate within the University’s Catholic morality, it is the war. The University’s ROTC program has trained hundreds of officers who have gone on to tours in Iraq since the war began (there is even an Army ROTC Club of Iraq). Those officers have bravely and dutifully executed the policies of their Commander-in-Chief, policies that the Catholic Church considers unjust. Why isn’t Jenkins leading (instead of stifling) the University in a discussion of how the University can maintain this support for the war in the face of its Catholic character?

Is it because Jenkins’ concern over the gender issues was just a veiled response to the Board of Trustees and other powerful alumni? Is it because the University cannot afford to lose the economic juggernaut that is the Notre Dame ROTC program? I would like to believe the reason is simply that the University wishes not to offend its proud ROTC heritage. However, I am not quite that optimistic.

I invite Jenkins to prove me wrong, and reopen the discussion on academic freedom, starting with the topic of the University’s position on the war. If he refuses, I would like to challenge the community to force the issue. If our community can engage in the sort of passionate and intelligent dialogue that surrounded the Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival, surely we can handle Iraq.

James Parrotclass of 1999April 5