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Faculty Senate supports Jenkins

Madeline Buckley | Monday, April 27, 2009

Faculty Senate approved a statement Wednesday supporting University President Fr. John Jenkins’ decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the 2009 Commencement address and award him with an honorary degree.

“The Faculty Senate affirms that the invitation to deliver the Commencement address and to receive an honorary degree reflects the University’s tradition of honoring our nation’s leaders and encouraging dialogue with them on issues important to the extended University community and to the nation,” the statement said.

The statement noted that Obama holds views both consistent and inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church and said the group respects both those who support and oppose Obama’s visit.

But in the statement, Faculty Senate urged the campus community and outside groups to respect the Commencement ceremony on May 17.

“A number of outside groups have suggested that they would use the Commencement ceremonies to advance their positions,” the statement said. “The Faculty Senate respectfully asks those groups to find other venues to convey their opinions to President Obama or to the University of Notre Dame.”

Faculty Senate is an assembly of University professors and faculty that seeks to “exercise a collective and independent voice in the governance of the University,” according to the group’s mission statement.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) – a national group of professors who work to advance academic freedom – also released a statement Thursday supporting Jenkins’ decision.

“Perhaps no attempt to ban a speaker has drawn more attention than the effort by off-campus groups to prevent President Barack Obama from delivering this year’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame,” the statement said.

The statement applauded Jenkins’ firm stance on his invitation and said rescinding invitations due to outside pressure is an “infringement” of academic freedom.

“The opportunity to be confronted with diverse opinions is at the core of academic freedom, which is vital to a free society and a quality education,” the statement said. “The AAUP will continue to work to ensure such academic freedom.”

The group said Jenkins’ decision is consistent with a statement by University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh: “The Catholic university must have true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”