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A response to the Progressive Faculty/Staff Alliance

| Monday, October 10, 2016

Last Monday, the Observer published a Letter to the Editor regarding Fr. Jenkins’ recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The letter was signed by forty-eight members of the Notre Dame Progressive Faculty/Staff Alliance. The signatories expressed their disagreement with Fr. Jenkins’ comments regarding the NCAA’s decision to pull all neutral-site conference championship games out of North Carolina.

In his editorial, Fr. Jenkins argued that the NCAA does not have the right to “employ the economic power it derives from member universities to attempt to influence the outcome of the legal process.” I fully respect and support this view, as I believe the NCAA’s actions constitute a blatant abuse of power. The role of the NCAA is to regulate collegiate sports, not to impose contentious moral values on its members.

Evidently, the signatories of Monday’s letter disagree with this view. In their letter, they applaud the NCAA for “taking this stand,” but say nothing of the precedent it will establish in doing so. Such a stance is shortsighted and poorly reasoned. Does the Progressive Faculty/Staff Alliance genuinely believe that the NCAA should have the authority to impose its views on member universities? Would the Alliance still consider the NCAA’s actions justified if it were to push a conservative, rather than liberal, agenda? It seems unlikely.

The Alliance accused Fr. Jenkins of “privileg[ing] the rights and feelings of cisgender, heterosexual people over transgender and gay people.” This is an unfair characterization of a man deeply committed to the fair and equal treatment of all people. The views he expressed in his editorial were temperate, well-reasoned and entirely respectful. While acknowledging the need to “attend to the rights and sensibilities of transgender persons,” he correctly points out that the safety and privacy of all students must also be taken into account.

In the context of these editorials, it is important to distinguish between legal “rights” and personal “feelings.” Gender identity is not a federal statutory protected right, nor is there some constitutional right to use the bathroom of your perceived gender. The claim that HB2 is about “civil rights” is therefore a subjective argument and not a legal reality.

The free exercise of religion, on the other hand, is an inalienable and constitutionally protected right. Notre Dame, like all private religious institutions, has the legal right to implement policies that are consistent with its own values and beliefs. The efforts of an unelected, private sports organization to usurp this role should be considered a direct affront to the religious liberty of our nation’s universities.

It is the position of the Catholic Church that man is made in the image of God, and that He defines gender at birth. Whether or not Notre Dame chooses to adopt this view is a decision for the Board of Fellows, the Board of Trustees and the University’s president, not the federal government and certainly not the NCAA.

Although I understand that the signatories of Monday’s letter represent only a small fraction of the approximately 1,200 faculty members at this University, I am still deeply troubled by their assessment of Notre Dame’s campus. This is an institution that places enormous value on diversity and inclusion. Our students and faculty are exceedingly compassionate, charitable and overwhelmingly accepting of one another. The University offers a broad array of courses that address complex social issues — including the mandatory First-Year Experience — and it dedicates enormous resources toward fostering a positive and inclusive culture on campus.

Beginning with Fr. Hesburgh and his march alongside Rev. King in 1964, Notre Dame’s presidents have consistently fought for the rights of marginalized groups. It is untenable to claim that Fr. Jenkins has failed in this regard based on his critique of the NCAA and his call for a more nuanced approach to resolving contentious social issues. In truth, it is irresponsible to suggest that the University hastily adopt gender-neutral facilities without also addressing the safety and privacy concerns of many students.

If the University decides to substitute biological sex for gender identity, it would not only affect our dorm system and campus amenities, but also call into question our understanding of the human psyche. This is an issue that undoubtedly warrants serious discussion, but these discussions must be grounded in respect, objective reason and deference to the rights of private religious institutions.

While the NCAA has the legal authority to schedule events and implement policies as it sees fit, it should not be allowed to leverage its power to influence politics and infringe on the autonomy of private universities. In a nation increasingly divided by political polarization, sports offer a neutral sphere for fans to come together and set aside partisan grievances. Public and private institutions alike should keep this in mind when they consider acting on politically divisive issues. Simply put, keep politics out of sports.

Liam Stewart is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Letters, majoring in political science. Liam was born and raised in the beautiful Irish city of Dublin, although he has been proud to call Seattle home for the past six years. He enjoys country music, hardback books and binge-watching TV shows. He can be reached at [email protected]

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

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About Liam Stewart

Liam Stewart is a Sophomore in the College of Arts and Letters, majoring in political science. Liam was born and raised in the beautiful Irish city of Dublin, although he has been proud to call Seattle home for the past six years. He enjoys country music, hardback books and binge-watching TV shows. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contact Liam