The law school faculty owe us an explanation and an apology
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Since the White House Rose Garden Ceremony two weeks ago, many newspapers, including The Observer, have focused on the behavior of Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins. However, Jenkins’ egregious maskless handshaking behavior wasn’t the only violation of Notre Dame’s COVID-19 policies that day. According to one source, 17 Notre Dame professors, administrators and spouses attended the event in addition to Fr. Jenkins.
While Fr. Jenkins’ apology may have been lackluster, the silence in the walls of the law school is deafening.
I am a third-year law student. I am also immunocompromised. And I am shocked, appalled and frankly embarrassed by the behavior of the law school faculty and staff who attended the White House Rose Garden event. The fact that they felt it necessary to attend the function in the first place goes against school policy, but I can understand that decision.
However, the fact that many of them took off their masks, sat right on top of each other, hugged and shook hands and then, when word got out that a number of the attendees tested positive for COVID-19, decided not to quarantine and did not apologize for their behavior is all beyond the pale. It shows a lack of leadership, a lack of empathy and frankly, a lack of common sense. I am aware that many of them received rapid tests before the event, but clearly those tests were not effective, judging by the sheer number of people who tested positive mere days later. And even if they hadn’t, optics matter.
When asked by the New York Times about their decision to go mask-less, two anonymous members of the Notre Dame delegation said it stemmed from a “desire to politely blend in, as a guest at a cocktail party may remove a tie upon realizing everyone else was dressed business casual.” They also expressed regret.
This is not enough. Wearing a mask in a time of pandemic is nowhere near wearing a tie to a cocktail party. Wearing a mask is the best known method to contain the spread of a deadly virus — wearing a tie is a fashion choice. Wearing a mask saves lives — wearing a tie might save your shirt from a ketchup stain. Wearing a mask is an effective measure of protection — wearing a tie is a mere showing of elegance.
Maybe the next time a student is reprimanded for meeting up with friends without masks on, they should cite their recent negative COVID-19 tests and say they just did it to “politely blend in.”
And it should not escape our notice that their regret is anonymous and in a national publication. If they are truly regretful, why haven’t they reached out to students apologizing? If they are truly regretful, why have they not quarantined? If they are truly regretful, why have they not explained their actions to those they affect the most — those they may infect, should they test positive in the next few days?
Notre Dame puts itself out as a bastion of morality — but the behavior of the last two weeks has gravely tarnished that reputation. Professors concerned about their students would have at the very least worn masks. Moral leaders would’ve considered the message they sent by participating in this kind of event while students doing the same would be met with strict punishment. A school that cares about health and safety would require the same quarantining of professors who have been exposed as it does of students.
My law school classmates and I have received our administration’s message loud and clear: Do what we say HERE, but ignore what we do THERE.
third-year law student
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.