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Many students say Jenkins’ efforts were laudable

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, April 6, 2006

University President Father John Jenkins’ closing statement on academic freedom and Catholic character came Wednesday after two months of encouraging students to voice their opinions to him through e-mail, Viewpoint letters in The Observer and open discussions – a proactive approach that garnered praise from students.

Student body president Lizzi Shappell said she was pleased with Jenkins’ decision to embrace both the Catholic and academic identities of Notre Dame.

“I think it sets the precedent of truly living out our mission as a Catholic university,” Shappell said. “[He is] challenging students, faculty and staff to present both religious and secular presentations.”

Shappell said she appreciates Jenkins allowing student government and the student body to be part of the conversation about academic freedom.

“I believe that the entire process has proven that students will be heard on this campus,” Shappell said.

During the two-month debate, Shappell, along with former student body president Dave Baron, presented Jenkins and other top members of the administration with a “spectrum of student views,” Shappell said.

She said Jenkins’ approach to considering the implications of academic freedom – one that asked for student input – showed his respect for the opinions of the student body.

As she begins her term as student body president, Shappell hopes to continue to coordinate dialogue between students and members of the administration.

“The closing statement opened the door for students and student leaders to continue to be in conversation with administration leaders,” Shappell said.

Madison Liddy, the 2006 director of “The Vagina Monologues,” echoed Shappell’s praise, commending Jenkins for listening to the opinions presented by the student body.

Liddy, along with other members of the “Monologues” production, engaged in dialogue with Jenkins in the months leading up to his decision. She said Jenkins was open in his discussions with her and her group.

“The fact that the president of the University is willing to address this issue really says a lot about this school and the value of women on campus,” Liddy said.

Liddy has been tapped by Jenkins to serve as a member of a newly-created ad hoc University committee, chaired by Jenkins, to address gender relations and issues relating to violence against women. The committee will be a good step towards addressing the existence of sexual violence on campus, Liddy said.

“I’m very proud to go to a university in which the president is willing to take this much time to address an issue that is so important to so many,” Liddy said.

Sophomore Nicole Crnich said she did not follow the debate that closely but is glad “The Vagina Monologues” will not be prohibited from campus.

“I think it was good that he took input from a lot of different people like students and teachers,” Crnich said.

Former student body president Dave Baron said he was pleased with Father Jenkins’ decision to couple productions that are not aligned with Catholic teachings with panel discussions to stimulate conversation and thought.

Baron described Jenkins as an “introverted leader” and an “outstanding listener,” impressive qualities that should earn the Notre Dame community’s respect, he said.

“I’ve come to respect him even more as I’ve gotten to know him,” Baron said. “He is not the type of leader that gets his motivation from other people. … He finds his motivation from himself.”

Shappell said she was also impressed by Jenkins after working with him and seeing the level of respect he gave to the student voice.

“Altogether he has proven himself a very good listener, one who seems to have a very thorough process for making decisions,” Shappell said.

She believes the current discussion on academic freedom will continue and hopes to work with Jenkins and his administration in furthering the conversation.

“I would say it is a move in the right direction,” Shappell said. “However, I don’t think that all the issues are resolved.”

Certainly not for Arina Grossu, the president of Notre Dame/Saint Mary’s Right to Life. Grossu said Wednesday she was “extremely disappointed” by Jenkins’ decision to allow the play to continue in the future.

“Allowing ‘The Vagina Monologues’ to continue is a scandal to our Catholic character and an insult to our status as an academic university,” Grossu said. “Pornographic material should not be elevated to an academic status.”

Grossu said she will urge Jenkins to reconsider and retract his statement.

She said she recognized that the Catholic Church does allow for consideration of dissenting viewpoints, but said “The Vagina Monologues” does not present these different ideas in an intellectual manner.

“There’s a difference between reading Martin Luther … which is fine in an academic institution,” Grossu said. “… And watching a play that appeals to the passions and is pornographic.”

Grossu expressed concern that in the future, non-intellectual events that oppose Catholic teachings will be justified by their presentation in an academic setting.

Joe Piarulli contributed to this article.