We need Pete
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, August 13, 2020
The strikingly green signs are everywhere; we are most definitely “HERE,” on campus, in the midst of the greatest public health crisis the U.S. has ever faced.
The decision to return was certainly controversial, making headlines both in the U.S. and around the world. Only time will tell whether it was the right choice to make; yet, it is hard to deny the courage that it took for the University leadership to call Notre Dame back to its home.
Fr. Jenkins and his team have made clear their belief that Notre Dame’s academic discourse is too important, too significant to delay or move fully online. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders, so they must continue to participate in their on-campus studies, despite the significant health risks. We need to keep learning for ‘a world greatly in need.’
In keeping with this endeavor, Notre Dame has made the applaudable decision of hiring former South Bend mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to the Institute for Advanced Study. Despite the fact that this appointment is consistent with the University’s pursuit of a broad, balanced and enlightened education for all its students, the news has resulted in notable opposition within our community.
One article in particular, written by Rev. Wilson D. Miscamble of the History Department, was noticed by and partially reproduced in the popular socially conservative magazine, the National Review. “Mayor Pete at Notre Dame” (initially published in the religious journal First Things) criticizes Mayor Pete’s appointment under the guise that his pro-choice political opinions are antithetical to the Catholicism at Notre Dame’s heart.
This position is as misguided as it is dangerous. While it is certainly true that abortion is prohibited in Catholic teachings, the discussion and debate of the issue is absolutely not. Engaging with and encouraging the expression of varying points of view has been a hallmark of the Catholic faith in modern times. One only has to look at the evolution of the Church’s position on numerous issues, from homosexuality to scientific research, to see how academic disputes are a crucial part of the Catholic experience.
Academic discourse with those we disagree with is a critical part of a fair and, more importantly, useful education. Notre Dame, as a leading academic institution, aims to embody these ideals. As a result, opposing Pete Buttigieg’s appointment to the faculty based on his political opinions not only makes little sense, but serves to counter the University’s core intentions. Hiring Pete Buttigieg is not paramount to a University sanctioned endorsement of his opinions, but it does keep Notre Dame true to its mission to educate.
Whilst I full-heartedly disagree with opposition to Mayor Pete’s appointment based on his political opinions, I do understand it. What I cannot wrap my head around, and have been disappointed to encounter, is the homophobia and bigotry that often lies beneath criticisms of his hiring.
In Rev. Miscamble’s article, Pete Buttigieg’s sexuality and marital status are mentioned no less than five times. This has the thinly veiled intention of suggesting that Mayor Pete’s personal life will affect his ability to teach at and contribute to our University. This sexuality-baiting lays bare the anti-gay sentiments behind some of the opposition to Mayor Pete’s appointment. An individual’s ability to perform their job is entirely independent of their private lives. Both Mayor Pete and Rev. Miscamble are perfectly capable of teaching, irrespective of their personal affairs. Thus, to oppose someone’s appointment based on their sexuality, which many who oppose Pete’s appointment do, is not only archaic but also wrong.
I strongly believe that Notre Dame is an inclusive and kind place, an institution where ideas and minds can prosper. That being said, some of the opposition to Mayor Pete’s hiring demonstrates that, on some key issues, we still have a long way to go. No one should feel that who they are and whom they love impacts their ability to perform at this University. I am dismayed that criticism of Buttigieg’s appointment is perpetuating that feeling.
Notre Dame has reached new academic heights by engaging with an increasingly wide array of voices. Including those we disagree with does not diminish our values, it strengthens them. We need Mayor Pete “HERE” to be that which we are: a force for good in the world. I look forward to learning from and, yes, challenging his ideas this year.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.