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Uniting under common ground

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, February 1, 2006

As we continue discussion about academic freedom and Notre Dame’s Catholic character, I urge people to re-read University President John Jenkins’ speech. It disturbs me that a few people have oversimplified his stance, purporting some breach of free speech. Jenkins deliberately spelled out how vital academic freedom is to our Catholic university. He assured us that “faculty have the ability to research, create, teach, and express themselves in accord with their own best judgment, and that students have the opportunity to inquire, express opinions, explore ideas and engage in discussion…” He went on further to state that, “The university certainly can host individual speakers who defend atheism, or infanticide, or euthanasia or a first-strike nuclear attack. It is essential to a university that there be a variety of views expressed vigorously, even those contrary to deep values of Catholicism. We are richer, and the Catholic intellectual tradition is strengthened, if a variety of views are expressed and discussed.” This does not sound to me like a restraint on free speech, but a reasonable and nuanced understanding of the intellectual playing field of a Catholic university.

However, any right or freedom comes with a responsibility. Jenkins recognizes that each faculty member has the right to free speech. Along with this right comes the obligation mentioned in the Academic Articles as the “avoidance of using the University’s name to advance one’s personal opinion or interests.” Students also have free speech. Jenkins points out that students “are free to hold their own opinions on issues treated in the class … Outside the classroom, students are free to express their own views, while respecting the rules and procedures of the university.” However, freedom of speech does not mean complete reign over one’s own education.

Jenkins also has rights and responsibilities that come with his presidency. He has a right to make all final decisions according to his most informed judgment. He was not obligated to include us in the discernment, but he generously offered us the forum in which to do so. As a professed servant of the Church entrusted with the operation of a Catholic university, he is also responsible for preserving Notre Dame’s Catholic integrity.

While individuals are free to present their own views on any issue, the University as an entity cannot be associated, implicitly or explicitly, with any event that runs contrary to the teachings of the Church.

Notre Dame is known and loved for her standards as an academic institution that also cultivates morality in Her students. Allowing the lewd “Vagina Monologues” and Queer Film Festival to continue under the shadow of Our Lady would mean forsaking that for which She stands. How much more vulgarity must She suffer before She loses all semblance of a Catholic institution? Pope Paul VI writes in Humanae Vitae as if in direct response to the “Vagina Monologues,” “Everything therefore in the modern means of socialcommunication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit.”

I would venture to say that just about everyone on campus wants to end the violence against women. The issue is not whether we should, but by what means we should. Jenkins suggests that the “Vagina Monologues” are an inappropriate means to achieve this goal due to its “graphic descriptions of homosexual, extra-marital heterosexual and auto-erotic experiences” which run contrary to Catholic sexual teaching. How does one minimize sexual violence by maximizing sexual lasciviousness in a play?

What surprises me about the developments of the past week is that vocal parties have not united in an effort to find alternate fundraising routes for an end to violence against women, but have instead united to protect an abstract freedom of speech based on unfounded tangents. Let’s refocus. I offer my time and help to mobilize, alongside peers of all dispositions, a campus-wide fundraising effort for an end to violence against women. There is no reason why we shouldn_t work together as a university in this common goal in a way that truly reflects Her Catholic character.

A blog has been created as a medium for online discussion that is readily available for the Notre Dame family at large: www.freedomnd.blogspot.com. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Arina GrossuseniorPresident of Notre Dame Right to LifeJan. 30