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Saint Mary’s – we need to talk

Jonathan Klingler | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

For anyone who has been in a relationship, the words “we need to talk” bring with them the possibility of arguments, insults, honest conversations and sometimes a reconciliation that can sustain the relationship well into the future. Uttering those dreaded four words is unpleasant, but it has to be done in order to move forward.

Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s have enjoyed a special and often close relationship over the years. After all, Notre Dame was only 13 when Saint Mary’s showed up across the street, and their young love strengthened as each school educated one half of a growing community. Many of us have parents from both schools, and we have all heard the legendary stories about students from both schools sneaking through the tunnels to get home after parietals. Notre Dame provided men with a Holy Cross education and Saint Mary’s provided women with the same, and the relationship was one of mutual benefit, respect and affection.

By the late 1960s, many of Notre Dame’s all-male peer universities began to go co-ed or merge with associated all-female universities. Notre Dame began to see the benefits of combining with Saint Mary’s, and in May 1971, University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh proposed a merger. A few departments began the merger process and a number of Saint Mary’s students enrolled at Notre Dame and graduated with Notre Dame degrees.

However, in a 2002 Observer article, Hesburgh said, “I said to the sisters, ‘You know, sisters, we’re using all the metaphors of marriage, and I get the impression you’re in favor of the marriage, but two things are missing. Number one, you don’t want to take our name, and number two, you don’t want to live with us. That’s not marriage.'” In 1971, frustrated with a lack of progress, Notre Dame broke off the merger. In 1972, Notre Dame went co-educational unilaterally and the historic first class of women enrolled at the University.

It has been more than 30 years since Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s broke off their ephemeral engagement. Though the phrase was not in usage at the time, the best term to describe the current relationship is “friends with benefits.” Unfortunately for the Notre Dame community, the vast majority of those benefits go to Saint Mary’s. Saint Mary’s students receive the ability to take classes at a top-20 undergraduate institution, access to job recruiters who come to Notre Dame, Notre Dame student section football tickets (which are often better than those of actual Notre Dame students) and participation in nearly all of Notre Dame’s larger and more organized student organizations, including the University of Notre Dame Marching Band, student managers and the cheerleading squad. In exchange, Notre Dame students get to take excellent education classes, occasionally use O’Laughlin Auditorium and go on the Semester Around the World.

In October 2005, Saint Mary’s student body president Kellye Mitros wrote a letter to The Observer entitled “Separate and Proud,” extolling the continued independence of Saint Mary’s. The theme was continued with this year’s campaign for Saint Mary’s student body president, as the Davis-Kennedy ticket “recognize[d] the need to maintain the College’s deeply rooted tradition in the sometimes-uncertain future of Saint Mary’s identity,” according to the Observer endorsement.

I’m happy that Saint Mary’s students are proud of their school, but in reality they aren’t separate at all. Nothing exemplifies this fact to me more than a quote from Saint Mary’s student Lauren Sheldon in an Observer article after the Army game last fall. “At my first Notre Dame game before I was a student, I would watch them in fascination. Then when I got to be a part of that, it was amazing. I’ll always remember when the leprechaun threw a Rice Krispie treat at me and when we gave James Aldridge push-ups last year when he was in the recruiting section.” This sentiment is not a fluke. In a 2005 Letter to the Editor, Saint Mary’s student Christine Herdman wrote, “That’s what I love about those boys that make up our Notre Dame Football team.” Students from a school whose leaders constantly assert their independence and separate identity also enthusiastically take part in Notre Dame activities that define our identity, and even claim that identity as their own. If that is not hypocritical, it is at least problematic.

If Saint Mary’s wants to be part of Notre Dame, it should merge with the University, have equal standards for admission and tuition and contribute its fair share. If Saint Mary’s says it is independent and proud of it, it shouldn’t turn around and take advantage of Notre Dame’s greater resources. Saint Mary’s effective rejection of Notre Dame’s offer ruined its “engagement” with Notre Dame 30 years ago and the College continues to display its indecisiveness through its students’ words and deeds. Notre Dame now fulfills the mission of providing a Holy Cross education to both men and women, and Saint Mary’s should choose whether it wants to be “separate and proud” or a part of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, it didn’t do that in 1971 and it won’t now. Why should they buy the cow when they can get the milk for free?

Jonathan Klingler is a senior management consulting major and president emeritus of the Notre Dame College Republicans. He currently resides in Keenan Hall and enjoys Tolstoy and Matlock. He can be contacted via e-mail at jklingle@nd.edu

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