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PSA needs to reconsider tactics

| Friday, April 16, 2004

Sustained civil disobedience poses two challenges for demonstrators to consider – not only how long to wait before taking a daring public stance, but also how best to approach the audience their bold step will address.

Members of the Progressive Student Alliance decided Wednesday that they had waited long enough for Notre Dame to make an official statement against renewing its contract with Taco Bell. After delivering letters to the office of University President Father Edward Malloy for the past two weeks, the students opted to further publicize their three-day hunger strike by making their presence felt in the Office of the President.

While such initiative is admirable at Notre Dame – a campus traditionally rife with student apathy-the PSA’s choice of a confrontational approach may have soured a productive, if slow-moving, dialogue with the administration.

Students from the group have met since last fall with vice president and general counsel Carol Kaesebier to air their concerns. Kaesebier’s office has been open both to ongoing discussion and to seeking Taco Bell’s response, and should be praised for its performance in a mediating role between the students, the corporation and the administration – stressing fairness to all sides at every step in the process.

The letter Kaesebier sent to Taco Bell March 5 and the follow-up call placed Wednesday exemplify a willingness to address the students’ concerns. By delegating responsibility to the general counsel, the University provided an avenue for the PSA to seek answers from Taco Bell that specifically speak to its relationship with Notre Dame. The University’s responsibility to hear its sponsor’s side and its responsibility to assist alarmed students have both been fulfilled.

The PSA, however, questions Notre Dame’s responsibility to bepersistent. The University’s cooperative assistance clearly is not as outspoken as students’ relentless efforts in the name of their cause.

But passion, the PSA learned Wednesday, is not always productive.

Arriving unannounced at Malloy’s office was within their rights. Students who want to approach the president should be able to do so. Yet out of respect for his position and for his protocol for scheduling meetings in advance – an option the group did not pursue – the PSA must realize that spontaneously approaching Malloy will be ineffective.

A statement from the administration will only come when they have heard from Taco Bell and evaluated the corporation’s claims. Kaesebier, president’s counselor Father Peter Jarret and others have made that clear. And while acts of civil disobedience like sit-ins and hunger strikes have proven historically successful in other contexts, with the Notre Dame administration they carry less weight than the more professional exchange the students had with Kaesebier.

While patience may be frustrating, continuing on the course begun with the general counsel is the wisest choice for the students.

Justice too long delayed is justice denied, says the PSA rallying cry. Butjustice forced may disrupt justice forthcoming.