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Fumbling the ball in complying with the law

| Friday, February 24, 2017

In his well-argued letter in the Feb. 21 edition of The Observer that exhorted President John Jenkins to resist injustice and follow through on the words of solidarity he has expressed for Notre Dame’s undocumented students, James Corcoran reminds us of our mission to pursue the common good and, hence, just laws.

Corcoran is sympathetic to Jenkins’ predicament in deciding to “comply with the law” — that is, with President Trump’s diktats. Nevertheless, he judges this to be a blunder. Fr. Jenkins, he implies, is fumbling the ball.

Sadly, Notre Dame has a history of comparable blunders. For example, in the mid-1970s, the campus groundskeepers set out to form a trade union, only to be challenged by President Hesburgh and his board of trustees. They called in a Chicago law firm to thwart unionization and, eventually, the grounds keepers jobs were outsourced.

Then in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, when mass protests were escalating and international opinion shifting against South Africa’s brutally repressive apartheid regime, the idea of corporate divestment took hold, triggering a worldwide campaign. When confronted with the option of withdrawing university funds from corporations profiting from their South African investments, Fr. Hesburgh balked. For 14 years, faculty and students pressed the university to divest, but to no avail. (On the other hand, the Congregation of Holy Cross did divest).

Fortunately, the international divestment campaign garnered huge support, particularly in the United States and Europe. Consequently, by the mid-1980s South Africa’s economy was stagnating, while the liberation movement was surging. In this context, the apartheid government was forced to negotiate. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison and, with his African National Congress, negotiated an impressive non-racial constitution with entrenched human rights. Thus a racial bloodbath had been avoided.

While Notre Dame has dropped the ball in the past, this time one hopes Fr. Jenkins will recover his grip and fumble the ball no longer. Certainly James Corcoran has gracefully requested that he be prepared, if necessary again and again, to publicly condemn and non-violently resist President Trump’s unjust laws if undocumented individuals are removed from our campus. For in Corcoran’s words, our community is “bound by invisible bonds, held together by a common mission … in making the world a better, more moral place.” We and Fr. Jenkins can do no other given our Christian faith and heritage. Jesus’ new commandment “that you love one another” and his teachings in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount must be paramount.

Peter Walshe
professor emeritus
Feb. 22

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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