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Response to Jenkins’ closing statement

Letter to the Editor | Monday, May 1, 2006

Dear Father Jenkins,

I write in support of your recent closing statement. Issues attendant to academic freedom have been thoroughly vetted not only in the recent University dialog you initiated but in the subsequent exchange of views in the media. However, there appears to have been somewhat less emphasis upon the benefits of raising awareness regarding domestic violence as well as the dangers of failing to adequately address the presence of such violence. In my view, any presentation on campus authorized by faculty that reasonably promotes an awareness of domestic violence in our society is one that should be encouraged.

Notre Dame can be a part of the cutting edge in identifying all aspects of domestic violence and in understanding the devastating impacts of such violence on our families. Alternatively, the University can set up its camp out on the periphery and become an integral component of the trailing edge. Until the recent open dialog and your final decision, it certainly appeared that on the issue of domestic violence, Notre Dame tended more to the latter position.

Having recently received a gubernatorial appointment as a district court judge, I thought that my undergraduate years at Notre Dame, my law school education at UC Berkeley and well over 20 years of private practice adequately prepared me for the position. This has turned out to be true, with one notable exception. What I wasn’t prepared for was the number of domestic violence cases that I would have to pass judgment on. I was expecting perhaps as many as twenty domestic violence cases per week, but in far too many instances I have had to deal with at least that many per day. With such an onslaught of domestic violence and related matters, at times it seems as though I am presiding over the disintegration of family, moral values and a portion of our society.

My court is located in Santa Fe, easily one of the most affluent cities in New Mexico as well as one where Catholics are far and away the most predominant religious group. Perhaps it is with some irony that in Santa Fe, the state capital, the City of the Holy Faith (as its name is translated from Spanish), there is hard evidence on a daily basis of a burgeoning domestic violence crisis at the same time that some in the Church here, as well as some out on the Notre Dame campus, seem to have difficulty envisioning the possibility that a substantial number of perpetrators and victims alike are Catholic.

In my view, this has the makings of a crisis if the issue of domestic violence continues to be relegated to hushed corners, far enough away from polite discourse so as not to be offensive. As with the clergy sex abuse scandals (which first came to light in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe well over 20 years ago), an integral part of the solution is first to openly acknowledge that a problem even exists, then to engage in a reasoned dialogue as to the best range of solutions.

A failure by Notre Dame to raise the awareness of domestic violence among students by whatever reasonable means necessary amounts to failure of educational vision. In addition, failing to adequately address the domestic violence crisis means that women and young children, the predominant victims of such violence, will continue to suffer without having their needs substantially recognized, much less met.

Such a failure will result in very substantial costs to our society. Domestic violence often begets domestic violence. Study after study has indicated that a victim of domestic violence is in later life considerably more likely to perpetrate such violence than an individual who has no such history. Notre Dame can actively participate in breaking the cycle of violence by taking a leadership role on the issue of recognizing and dealing comprehensively with the domestic violence crisis.

Among the many duties that Notre Dame has is educating her students such that they are fully prepared to move out into society with adequate awareness of its problems and the possible range of solutions or, at the very least, an adequate framework for creating some answers. This can certainly be promoted not only by campus presentations that raise awareness of domestic violence but by subsequent discussions guided by Notre Dame faculty members as to the appropriate response(s) to this crisis.

The better Notre Dame’s students are prepared to admit and understand the grim realities of domestic violence – even if it takes somewhat shocking presentations to do it – the better they will be able to help lead us to new answers. More than any other university, and certainly any Catholic university, Notre Dame is the gold standard out here. If the University continues on its current path, I am hopeful that its recent stance on academic freedom will move us to new levels of understanding and commitment on the issue of resolving domestic violence.

I applaud your courage, not only in beginning a remarkably open dialog within the Notre Dame community concerning academic freedom, but in reaching an honorable decision. As well, I respect your fortitude and grace in the face of the sometimes harsh and disrespectful commentary brought on by that decision. In my view, history will prove you to be on the right side of this issue.

Raymond Z. OrtizalumnusClass of 1975April 27