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Rice’s critique unfair

Letter to the Editor | Friday, April 28, 2006

Professor Emeritus Charles Rice expressed passionate and personal vehemence in his April 25 column about University President Father John Jenkins’ closing statement (“Jenkins’ statement a serious misstep”). That is unfortunate for two reasons. First, Jenkins may be the first University president in memory to publicly solicit input from the two principal constituencies – students and faculty – on a matter of important concern. And that would include the presidencies of Fathers John Cavanaugh, Theodore Hesburgh and Edward Malloy – more than 60 years.

Second, the Catholicity of the University is not so fragile that presentation of a play will weaken its fabric, even a play replete with vulgarities and crudities. To establish our resolve to the concept of academic freedom, it should not be necessary to dance to the tune of author Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” Ensler doesn’t have a franchise on fighting violence against women. Nor is it necessary to placate those faculty fascinated by seeing the University struggling on this issue.

Rice will never win the award for gentility of expression. His indictment of Jenkins includes such accusative phrases as having “ignored the substantive effects,” “fell for the lie” and confirming “that political correctness is the operative official religion of Notre Dame.” Rice further suggests Jenkins will be responsible for “creation of a diverse and predictably useless committee to discuss things” from which will emerge a “fig leaf to cover an accommodation to the relativist, homosexual culture.”

With these attacks, Rice moves beyond advocacy to assassination of his target when he writes that Jenkins has “distorted the meaning of a Catholic university” and “did it all with persistent incoherence.”

Rice concludes by saying that Father Jenkins should resign or be removed, noting these alternatives involve “no animosity or disrespect toward Jenkins.” We can only wonder how Rice would thunder against someone he disrespects and bears animosity toward.

Surely it is unusual for a faculty member, current or emeritus, to declaim so stridently and so personally toward a University president. The tone is one of disparagement. The heat of the peroration suggests anger. This may not have been one of Rice’s best case presentations. Father Bill Miscamble’s letter on the same issue (“An open letter to Father John Jenkins,” April 11) was very direct but well within the bounds of civil discourse.

The issue has left our Bishop saddened and Rice apoplectic. But the University and Jenkins will persist. Academic freedom at Notre Dame will endure and adherence and devotion to our Catholic faith will not be abridged in the least. And Jenkins will serve long and well as Notre Dame’s president.

Robert O. MurphyalumnusClass of ’51April