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Jenkins greenlights ‘Monologues’

Bill Brink | Tuesday, March 11, 2008

“The Vagina Monologues” will be performed on campus this spring, University President Father John Jenkins said in a statement Monday, a month after criticism from Church leaders revived debate about the role of the sexually explicit play at a Catholic university.

Jenkins said the student proposal to perform the “Monologues” – which received approval from several academic departments and the dean of the College of Arts and Letters before he reviewed it – was consistent with guidelines reached in spring of 2006.

Those guidelines, formed by Jenkins and chairs from Arts and Letters after 10 weeks of campus-wide discussion, stipulate that academic panels will be held after each performance, and at least one panelist will offer “a thorough and sympathetic account of the Catholic tradition in relation to the issues raised in the play.”

The performances will take place March 24-26.

“My decision on this matter arises from a conviction that it is an indispensable part of the mission of a Catholic university to provide a forum in which multiple viewpoints are debated in reasoned and respectful exchange – always in dialogue with faith and the Catholic tradition – even around highly controversial topics,” Jenkins said in the statement.

In February, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops moved its conference from Notre Dame to a convent in Mishawaka to avoid connection with performance of the play.

The play, which had been performed at Notre Dame for six years before moving off campus in 2007, has drawn criticism in the past, most notably from South Bend-Fort Wayne Bishop John D’Arcy. In 2006, D’Arcy released a statement disagreeing with Jenkins’ decision to allow performance of the play.

Jenkins said he regretted that his decision would offend people like D’Arcy as well as members of the Notre Dame community, but felt it was best for the University.

“While I know the decision is likely to disappoint many, and perhaps satisfy no one fully, it is, in my judgment, the action that best serves the distinctive mission of Notre Dame,” Jenkins said.

The Observer could not reach D’Arcy Monday night.

Dennis Brown, assistant vice president for News and Information, would not comment on any recent criticism of Jenkins’ decision but said the statement came because “this year’s proposal has been approved.”

The anthropology, sociology and political science departments co-sponsored the event, said senior Jordy Brooks, co-organizer of the play. She said she was pleased with the level of support the play has received.

“It’s been great, everyone has been really supportive and helpful in making this an academic event,” she said.

Brooks said the academic aspect to the performance will enhance the play.

“We wanted going into this year to make it academic,” she said. “We thought it was really important that everyone understand it their own way. Adding an academic panel was one of the greatest things to do for the performance.”

Brooks said she and the other four co-organizers had not received any direct criticism for planning the play.

Brown said the policy Jenkins put in place two years ago remains in effect. In Jenkins’ closing statement on academic freedom and Catholic character, released April 5, 2006, he outlined four tenets of his philosophy used when determining whether the University could allow certain events.

He said sponsoring speakers and events was “an indispensable means for promoting debate on controversial subjects.” Academic departments, he said, are best for deciding which events should be sponsored. The departments must make clear that sponsorship does not imply agreement with the views presented in the event, he said. Finally, he said, a Catholic viewpoint must be discussed in relation to the event.

An academic panel will discuss each performance after the play concludes, Jenkins said in his statement, and at least one of the members of the panel will discuss how issues raised in the play relate to the Catholic tradition.