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Jenkins should still resign

| Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Hello, again! What a strange (and maddening) few weeks it has been since you last heard from me.

It all started on Saturday, Sept. 26, when University President Fr. John Jenkins attended the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The event was held in the Rose Garden of the White House, with over 200 individuals in attendance, many of whom neglected to wear masks and maintain physical distancing. Like many other students, I was immediately angered by Fr. Jenkins’ deliberate disregard for the agreement our campus community has made to follow safety guidelines at all times. 

Kerry Schneeman I Observer Viewpoint

As this was his second public ignorance of COVID policies and the second time we were emailed with a now-empty promise to do better, some friends and I decided we needed to take action immediately and drafted a resolution to the student senate, calling for Fr. Jenkins’ immediate resignation. Within 24 hours, we had more than the required 200 signatures to bring a student resolution to the senate. 

I’ll spare the rest of the dramatic details, as you can read them reported here, but our resolution was voted down on Thursday evening. The next morning, I woke up to the news that the U.S. president had tested positive for the virus and, hours after that, the student body was alerted that Fr. Jenkins was COVID-positive as well. Throughout the rest of the day, several other public figures who had been in the Rose Garden also began to test positive for COVID-19.

Almost immediately, I received messages from news outlets asking for comment on Jenkins’ positive test. As one of the students who had been fervently calling for Jenkins’ resignation, did his diagnosis change my position? 

No. In fact, Jenkins’ diagnosis strengthened my belief that he should resign. On Twitter, one of my classmates made the point that there are only three possible ways Fr. Jenkins could have contracted the virus. He either had it before the nomination and received a false negative rapid test upon entry, caught COVID at the nomination because someone else received a false negative test upon entry or contracted the virus in the time during or immediately following his travel back to South Bend.

The implications of each scenario are different, but all demonstrate a clear failure of leadership on Jenkins’ part. If he or someone else present received a false negative test, the fact that rapid testing is highly ineffective is anecdotally validated. This explains precisely why Jenkins should have been wearing a mask in the Rose Garden and why his apology email to students, in which he spent an entire paragraph explaining how his quarantine would be a mere formality, fell short. If he contracted the virus upon his return to South Bend, it may suggest that he did not enter quarantine immediately, as his email declared.

In the initial email response, Jenkins’ rhetoric appeared to suggest that, while he regretted his actions, he was not truly sorry for them. As I mentioned earlier, much of the email implied that there was an overreaction on the campus community’s part for expressing disapproval of his attendance. He wrote of how important his attending the nomination was and shared many details about the testing process he was subjected to. Clearly Jenkins felt safe in the environment, but this does not excuse his decision not to wear a mask. He was pictured sitting next to Marcus Cole, Dean of the Notre Dame Law school, who was wearing one. This means that Jenkins had an example of how a good leader may behave seated next to him and still concluded that he was beyond the rules he has asked the rest of the campus community to follow. 

This whole scenario evokes memories of Jenkins’ Op-ed in the New York Times on May 26. He wrote extensively about how his Catholic education has taught him the value of courage and moral strength amid adversity. He explained that, in reopening Notre Dame, we could prove these qualities to the rest of the world. As a lifelong attendee of Catholic school myself, I found the lessons he gleaned from Catholic education to stand in direct opposition with the things I was taught. My Catholic education taught me that noble risks are those which may cause one to lose wealth, popularity or status for the sake of those most in danger. 

To be a good leader is not to follow the crowd. It is not to travel to the White House against your own ban on unnecessary travel. It is not to sit maskless in a crowd of over 200 on national television, amid a global pandemic, especially when you have asked your community to limit themselves to gatherings of under 20. To be a leader is to do the unpopular thing that keeps people safe. Fr. Jenkins has brought national scrutiny upon our school and failed to demonstrate effective leadership. If he wishes to be a true leader, he will recognize that he is no longer the right person to guide our University through this academic year. If he wishes to be a true leader, he will resign.

When we met with the student senate Thursday evening, they seemed to disagree with resignation as the proper call to action because, as many of them noted, testing protocols were in place to keep Jenkins safe at the White House gathering. While his diagnosis is unfortunate and I hope for his full recovery, it proves that there is really no way to know what is safe in this current climate. As Fr. Jenkins was quoted in the email announcing his diagnosis, “The positive test is a reminder for me and perhaps for all of how vigilant we need to be.”

Our campus community deserves a leader who is vigilant amid a global pandemic before it personally affects them, not someone who becomes more vigilant only after they fall ill. I hope we start receiving our emails from this leader soon. 

Ashton Weber is a junior with lots of opinions. She is an econ major with a minor in sociology and she can often be found with her nose in a book. If you want to chat about intersectional feminism, baking blueberry scones, growing ZZ plants or anything else, she’d love to hear from you. Reach Ashton at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.

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

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About Ashton Weber

Ashton is a current Sophomore majoring in Economics and FTT, and minoring in the Gallivan Journalism Program. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but now resides in Flaherty Hall. Feel free to contact her about anything... literally, anything. She is often bored.

Contact Ashton