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Group of alumni launch Web site to tally sum of withheld donations

Madeline Buckley | Friday, April 17, 2009

Seeking a “change of leadership” at Notre Dame, a group of alumni launched a Web site Thursday to attempt to quantify the amount of money the University will lose in donations as a result of University President Fr. John Jenkins’ invitation for President Obama to deliver the 2009 Commencement address, said David DiFranco, a founder of the site.

The site, www.replacejenkins.com, asks alumni and other donors to sign a petition with contact information and the total dollar amount they plan to withhold.

“Although we love Notre Dame, our conscience requires that we withhold all financial support from our University until such time as Father Jenkins is replaced as Notre Dame’s President with someone who will be more loyal to the teaching of the Catholic Church,” the site states.

DiFranco said a group of seven – six alumni and one supporter of the University – decided to set up the site to ascertain how much Jenkins will cost Notre Dame.

“We thought, ‘why don’t we tally that sum and show it to the leaders of the University,'” he said.

DiFranco said he could not divulge the sum alumni have pledged to withhold so far, but he said he believes the amount will be substantial.

“The figure grows by the hour,” he said. “We are in communication with some very, very significant donors.”

The amount will be released when it “reaches a balance that is newsworthy,” he said.

DiFranco said the group is in the process of following up with the people who have submitted sums of money they plan to withhold to ensure there are no “bogus amounts.”

“This is our way of saying we will not sit idle,” he said. “It does affect our ability to give money in good conscience.”

University spokesman Dennis Brown declined to comment on the Web site in particular, but said the University has received both positive and negative feedback.

“We’ve known since before it was announced … that there would be people that would be opposed to the invitation and people in support of the invitation, and we’ve received both responses,” he said.

Brown also declined to comment on the University’s relationship with its donors.

The Web site states that the group supports academic freedom, but DiFranco said he believes Obama delivering the Commencement address does not fall under that category.

He said Jenkins’ statement that the invitation offers a chance for dialogue with the president does not apply because the speech is a “monologue.”

DiFranco said many alumni have been upset about several of Jenkins’ past decisions as well, such as allowing the production of the “Vagina Monologues” on campus.

The site states that signers of the petition will continue to withhold donations to the University until Jenkins is replaced.

Aaron Steiner contributed to this report.