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Student petition calls for Jenkins’ resignation following apparent breach of University health, safety protocols

| Tuesday, September 29, 2020

University President Fr. John Jenkins was seen without a mask and in close proximity to other maskless individuals while attending the nomination ceremony of Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court Saturday. His actions sparked a range of reactions among faculty and students, including the creation of a petition calling for his resignation.

The petition “calls for the resignation of Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C. as University President, effective immediately, for failure to comply with COVID-19 protocols.” 

In the plans laid out by the University before the beginning of the semester, wearing a mask and remaining physically distant are “key responsibilities” required of every member of the Notre Dame community.

University vice president for public affairs and communications Paul Browne said Jenkins and all others in the Rose Garden for the ceremony passed a nasal swab test before entrance.

“Only when the test results returned negative were they and others in their group escorted into the Rose Garden for the ceremony,” Browne said in a statement.

Ashton Weber, co-writer of the petition, said the measure has a total of 218 signatures as of Monday night, 18 signatures more than needed to pass on to the student body senate.

Editor’s Note: Ashton Weber is a columnist for the Viewpoint section of the Observer.

The petition, bearing the necessary amount of valid signatures, will be brought forth and considered as a resolution at this Thursday’s senate meeting, student body president Rachel Ingal confirmed in an email.  

The measure was met with mixed responses from the Notre Dame community. 

“I think what motivated the three of us to kind of speak out was frustration,” junior Patrick Kelly-Dutile, one of three Notre Dame students involved with writing the petition, said. 

Kelly-Dutile said Jenkins’ apparent disregard for University health and safety protocols affects not only Notre Dame, but the entirety of the South Bend community.

“The South Bend community, for one, is counting on us because we are in a sense we are living on their turf,” Kelly-Dutile said. “Because we have people that are relying on us, and because there’s people around the country and around the world that are relying on everyone to do their part, we felt that seeing Fr. Jenkins appearing to disregard CDC guidelines, in terms of not wearing a mask and not social distancing, struck a nerve for us.”

Kelly-Dutile said at the root of his dismayed reaction is his love for Notre Dame.

“That’s the reason why I see it fitting to hold myself, to hold my friends and to hold the administration to such a high standard, because I care about those things,” he said. “I want to see those things be safe and healthy and be able to continue in person, as we are right now.”

In regards to those who do not believe the pandemic is something to worry, Kelly-Dutile said he believes Jenkins’ “hypocrisy should make them mad as well,” regardless of their feelings about the virus.

This incident is the second time Jenkins was accused of breaking protocol, having issued an apology for a previous transgression in early August.

However, not all students share the opinion that Jenkins should resign from office. 

“I think a formal apology should be issued to the students,” first-year Gabrielle Penna said. “I was very disappointed with his failure to protect himself and the Notre Dame community this past weekend at the nomination.” 

Instead of asking for his resignation, however, Penna said she calls for forgiveness and understanding.

“He’s given us the opportunity to show the world that it’s possible to continue living safely throughout COVID,” she said. “I think to go out of his way like that for the student body shows just how much he loves and cares for the University. I think there just needs to be accountability. He needs to acknowledge when he does make those mistakes, because we all are trying our best.”

Fr. Jenkins issued an apology to the Notre Dame community for his actions in an email Monday evening. 

“I failed to lead by example, at a time when I’ve asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so,” Jenkins said in the statement. “I especially regret my mistake in light of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by many, particularly our students, in adjusting their lives to observe our health protocols.”

First-year Elle Akerman said she believes the petition is an overreaction.

“I feel like they just need to take a step back and think about what they’re doing, and what this means for Fr. Jenkins,” she said. “I am definitely 100% against it.” 

Akerman said she does not think the issue is serious enough for his resignation.

She said that by not adhering to guidelines, “[Jenkins] himself realizes that it is not that big of a threat. I feel like he should bring that back to campus and make rules based off of that.” 

Instead of creating a petition, she said talking about the issue with Jenkins is a more successful way of handling the situation.

“I just don’t see any reason that he should resign or even think of resigning,” she said. “So, to me, the petition is almost silly and …  not worth it.”

Several students also took to social media to encourage their peers to use the University’s COVID-19 incident report system to report Jenkins’ actions. The goal, according to senior Lan Anh Dinh, was to catch the attention of the administration. 

“I think that they talk a lot about leading by example, but then we’ve seen how, in previous cases of Fr. Jenkins’ actions, and this past weekend … It just kind of feels like empty promises, almost,” Dinh said.

Dinh said she was “highly dissatisfied” with Jenkins’ apology statement.

“A part of me even feels like it might not have been Fr. Jenkins who wrote the email,” she said.

However, Dinh said she is not sure Jenkins’ resignation is the answer.

“I do think that Fr. Jenkins has acted recklessly and has been a bad example, not only for his students, the faculty and staff, but also for the whole country,” Dinh said. “I am wary [about the petition], I don’t know what that would mean. I don’t know what the process is to select a new president for a private Catholic university. Although I do believe that a level of accountability has to be taken, or has to be acknowledged.”

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