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University of cynicism: a response to ‘Time for transparency’

| Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I’d like to push back a bit against The Observer editorial last week criticizing the University’s transparency during recent years. This isn’t historically a new thing — The Observer is a common platform for open criticism against the administration. And for good reason, too, because it’s a valuable space for promoting public discourse. Nevertheless, I’d like to offer a new opinion by stressing the importance of patience with respect to changes in administrative policy.

Perhaps transparency is less noticeable nowadays because the modern political climate scrutinizes all action (as well as non-action) as clear-cut representatives of greater, possibly sinister motivations held by those in positions of power. Why isn’t Notre Dame speaking more publicly about the mandatory on-campus rules or the ID card changes? Well, obviously, it’s because they just hate their students.

But then again, there is no way to make administrative changes in such a way that absolutely no one feels unjustifiably cheated. All change is associated with friction. It’s not possible for everyone to simultaneously get exactly what they want. Especially nowadays, where everything related to politics gets scrutinized viciously into the dust, those on the losing end of a trade-off are more than ever suitably equipped and well-motivated to bang on the drums of revolution and demand their way. But that constant banging sows seeds of unrest and resentment within us. That is counterproductive, and it damages our community.

It is not that “our leaders ignore [us]” or that there is “little indication our leaders truly listen.” Hardly so. Moreover, that perspective assumes apathy or even malice towards the student body on their behalf, a claim that I think is supremely cynical and unhelpful. Of course they care — to argue otherwise is absurd.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but keep in mind that the administration is not made up of faceless robots like you may think. They are hardworking, good natured people — just like you — whose primary goal is the success of this great University and the fulfillment of its mission. That truth is self-evident in the University’s product, and it’s why we all came here in the first place.

How does Notre Dame balance providing affordable and quality living arrangements for students while also cultivating the idea of community that is so prominent in a Holy Cross education? Sounds to me like a difficult trade-off to wrestle with. Dorm culture is a powerful part of the Notre Dame experience and is an excellent reflection of the values held by Holy Cross. But off-campus housing is cheaper and gives the student more individual freedom. Then again, when developing a holistic Notre Dame education, doesn’t the University want to steer away from modern, off-campus culture? That’s something worth thinking about.

Similarly, why would Notre Dame change the number of dorms an individual has access to with their ID card? Clearly, as the University itself has said, it’s a question of security, and a change in a security policy is an indication that something had to have changed. This likely wasn’t a decision made in isolation. Perhaps the administration made that decision with information that either the student body doesn’t know (which, as I would agree with the original author, if reasonably possible, the public ought to know) or information that the student body has simply overlooked. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume the administration had very good reasons for implementing these changes and was likely aware of the inevitable backlash.

Imagine an alternate universe: The University does nothing, and a public and tragic incident unfolds involving an uninvited guest in one of the dorms. Think of the wealth of criticism and the widespread rattling of sabers that would emerge demanding for change. Either way the wind blew, sabers would rattle.

The point I am getting to is that perhaps we ought not to be so resentful and mistrusting of one another or of the administration. My problem isn’t with scrutiny in general but instead with frivolous scrutiny. Don’t take up arms over the wrong things. Choose your battles wisely. In the short term, it comes across as superficial or even ungrateful. In the long term, it makes the banging of your drums deafening to those who might one day really need to hear them. Let’s put down our pitchforks over midnight bus routes, housing rules and student ID access and exercise more patience.

I have great reason to believe that those who take care of this University have seriously wrestled with some difficult decisions as of late. I may not agree with everything, and I know that there is certainly more work to be done. Nevertheless, I trust and thank the University for their diligent work and for bearing the thankless cross of responsibility.

Peter Brown


Sept. 10

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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