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Members oppose holding forum to discuss Obama controversy

John Tierney | Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Newly instated student body president Grant Schmidt addressed the ongoing controversy over the selection of President Obama as Commencement speaker at his first Council of Representatives (COR) meeting as president Tuesday.

Schmidt reiterated the statement released by former student body president Bob Reish, who asked that the focus “be redirected back to the class of 2009.”

Reish’s statement was largely descriptive in nature.

“Our statement is that there’s a general excitement on campus,” Schmidt said. “There are also many students that disagree on the decision based on some of the policies of President Obama and how they disagree with the Catholic Church.”

Schmidt asked COR members for their opinions on a proposed student government-sponsored forum addressing the Obama selection. He cited numerous requests from students as a reason for interest in a forum.

COR members were largely opposed to holding a forum on the issue of Obama’s Commencement address.

Among those in opposition was class of 2009 president Joey Brown.

“If you’re honest to [Reish and Schmidt’s statement], I don’t think you would host a forum,” Brown said.

Director of external affairs Gus Gari expressed concern that a forum would remove the focus from the graduates.

“I would hate for it to take away from graduation,” Gari said.

He suggested possibly holding a forum that is “divorced from the issue of President Obama coming,” he said. “If we do have a forum, we need to be very careful about the time.”

Gari suggested holding the forum in the fall, at which point it would address more general issues of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.

Student body vice president Cynthia Weber disputed the idea of holding a forum in the fall because it would not capitalize on the current surge of student interest in the University’s Catholic identity.

“There won’t be as wide a representation” in the fall, Weber said.

Weber suggested that holding a forum now would help the firestorm surrounding Commencement die down.

“I would argue that giving a formal outlet [to the discussion] would actually calm things down in the long run,” Weber said.

Gari said he could not see a forum calming anything down, at least not if it were held before Commencement.

“I don’t see civil dialogue where we’re getting something fruitful and productive out of this,” Gari said.

Brown said he and the class of 2009 council have largely stayed out of the controversy.

“We’re really wary about releasing statements,” Brown said.

However, Brown said that he and the other three class of 2009 officers sent a letter to University President Fr. John Jenkins endorsing the decision. The letter of endorsement expresses “a personal belief,” Brown said.