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Hypothetical situation

Brooks Smith | Thursday, January 28, 2010

 As a math major, I am often motivated to consider hypothetical propositions of airy-fairy abstraction, unconnected in any way with the reality of daily life, solely for my own amusement. Naturally most of these questions involve mathematics in some way — for instance, “What would happen if two and two made five?” (The answer, of course, is that mathematics as we know it would implode.)

However, on occasion I find my mind occupied by problems which do not have specifically mathematical origins, though they may be ripe for mathematical treatment. I present to you now one such meditation, a problem in information theory. Information theory deals with the diffusion of information across networks like the Internet.

Without further ado, then, here is my totally hypothetical, utterly unreal scenario. What if, in the wake of a national scandal over a tasteless and quite literally gay-bashing comic in our newspaper, the national news media were to hear about certain other facts that might reflect poorly on Notre Dame?

For instance, it is a well-known fact within the Notre Dame community, at least those who care to pay attention to such things, that our non-discrimination clause conspicuously leaves gay people out. It is equally well known that petitions to amend the clause have been rejected for over 15 years now, although a “Spirit of Inclusion” measure was passed, saying in effect, “Notre Dame includes gay people in everything! Everything, that is, except our non-discrimination clause. Sorry (not really).”

However, I’m not sure that any of the various commentators who expressed so much outrage over the unfortunate comic are aware of Notre Dame’s long-standing refusal of such inclusion. It’s unclear to me what would happen if someone were to write one or more of them an e-mail, mentioning the two situations together and leaving them to connect the (not very far apart) dots. It does seem plausible that there might be a minor uproar which would reflect poorly on our university. It would be particularly unfortunate if it came now or in the next couple of months, a delicate time of year when high school seniors are carefully weighing their admissions options.

I have not carried out this experiment myself, but I understand that Notre Dame is consistently ranked in the top 20 to 30 colleges in America. It would be fascinating if some research-minded blogger were to do some homework and try to find out how many of those other colleges exclude homosexuals from their clauses. It would be even more fascinating if they were to take a list of the Top 100 Colleges, from U.S. News and World Report, and see how far down the list they would have to go to find a similar exclusion. It’s possible, though again I have not checked, that we would be the only ones with such a dubious distinction.

This is all purely theoretical, of course.

Nor is it my impression that the so-called liberal media would have much appreciation for the nuances and delicacies of Notre Dame’s relationship with the Catholic Church in America which have kept homosexuals out in the cold for so long, in the unlikely event of someone alerting the media or the “blogosphere” in the manner which I have just meticulously outlined. In fact it seems to me, though of course I can claim no expertise in the matter, that this is exactly the kind of story which could liven up a few slow news days. And then you have the bloggers.

Remember that one guy, last year, who wanted to march on campus with pictures of aborted fetuses? Remember the people who hired the fetus plane to fly overhead, and the embryo trucks to drive around, because we were letting someone who refused to outlaw abortion speak at our school? That is the level of ire a school which refuses to outlaw gay-bashing is going to attract.

Or might attract. It’s hard to say.

But there certainly was a lot of ire, even over one little comic! Though it appeared in the official school newspaper, the administration has been able to distance themselves from the issue. Nonetheless it strikes me that the University might have more difficulty distancing themselves from 15 years of refusals and evasions than they would from a single tasteless comic strip — no matter how accurately that comic depicted the anti-gay atmosphere at Notre Dame, and the “tools” who perpetuate it.

Of course, the University could theoretically stave off such a disaster through preemptive action — that is, by including gay people in the non-discrimination clause. But that, I fear, is an even more improbable hypothetical than the others which preceded it. Sigh. Well, back to squaring the circle.


Brooks Smith is a junior math and English major at Notre Dame. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.