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Academic freedom or conservative Catholicism?

Observer Viewpoint | Monday, January 30, 2006

I am appalled by Father John Jenkins’ speeches concerning the scope of academic freedom. Hearing him speak of limiting this indispensable right makes me worry about the direction in which this institution is headed.

Allowing a dialogue to occur doesn’t mean the University endorses what is contained within the discourse and materials presented to spark it. If a professor assigns his/her students to read a speech given by Adolf Hitler to inspire discussion, does this mean that the University or the professor is endorsing the content of the speech? I think it is obvious that the answer to that question is an emphatic “No.” The same allowance should apply to the “Vagina Monologues” and the Queer Film Festival, especially since they both promote acceptance and diversity, as opposed to Hitler’s hate-filled words.

Why is Jenkins so afraid of these topics being discussed? Does he not think that the foundation of this University is strong enough to deal with differing opinions? In order for an individual’s values to develop, he/she must be exposed to and seriously consider all that is available. In Amish communities, the elders send young adults into the world for one year to experience all that it holds. They are then given the choice to return or remain a part of outside society. The elders embrace the idea that questioning leads to the strengthening and expansion of one’s beliefs. No justice is done for faith when those who have it are blind as to why they believe what they do.

The most vital question remains. Is the primary goal of Notre Dame to promote, among its students, the freedom to learn and develop an identity, or is the chief objective a surreptitious indoctrination of conservative Catholicism under the guise of allowing academic freedom? This requires serious discernment by University administrators. Even Du Lac states, “The intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students. The University is committed to constructive and critical engagement with the whole of human culture.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Joanna BasileCenter for Social ConcernsJan. 25