Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pro-life students step up at Notre Dame

Recently I mentioned the need for Catholic communities to produce more committed student and academic leaders to reform both Catholic and secular institutions of higher education.

Happily, some student leaders are already emerging in reaction to the University of Notre Dame's controversial commencement invitation to President Barack Obama.

The Notre Dame Response Student Coalition (ND Response), composed of groups opposed to the Obama invitation, has advocated several measures by which they believe Notre Dame may again secure its pro-life reputation.

Most proposals involve university president Fr. John I. Jenkins, CSC, “speaking out” or taking action on pro-life issues. With the reckless daring of the young, the students propose that Notre Dame's football commercials be used for pro-life advocacy.

More realistically, they suggest Fr. Jenkins lead a student delegation to the National March for Life or reserve a university fall forum for the pro-life cause.

The students of the coalition also ask for the school to re-commit itself to pro-life policies and to give “formal support” for pro-life initiatives on campus. They request that a pro-life “ombudsman” be appointed at the associate provost level to ensure “appropriate attention” to pro-life issues.

Curiously, ND Response's requests do not mention the new Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life, though its web site recommends donations to it.

The students have also sought to engage in dialogue with the university president. While ND Response's protest letters strike a much better tone than the communications of many other student activists, they reveal at least one major novice activist's mistake.

Though Fr. Jenkins initially offered to meet with 25 leaders of ND Response, the coalition boosted its demands. They asked that all student members of coalition groups and select faculty and staff supporters be allowed to attend a meeting with the university president in a large campus auditorium.

Likely thinking themselves magnanimous and perceptive of Fr. Jenkins' human limits, the coalition guaranteed that fewer than ten students would speak or engage with him at the proposed event.

“The content of this meeting will be available to the public following its event in the form of a transcript and live video recording: True dialogue only comes with accountability,” ND Response's April 6 letter explained.

Let's review.

Fr. Jenkins has recently made the worst decision of his presidency. Prominent figures have called for him to step down.

Yet these student innocents want him to go before a few hundred of their peers in a meeting style that could be seen as inquisitorial. Every careless remark Fr. Jenkins makes in such a venue will be recorded and scrutinized for weakness and “gotcha” moments by many of the internet denizens angered by his actions.

It's no wonder that, as CNA reports, the university president believes “conditions for constructive dialogue simply do not exist.”

ND Response replied to this comment by noting its members' intentions to “facilitate our productive discussion and demonstrate President Jenkins' genuine interest in transparent dialogue... ND Response remains open to true and transparent dialogue with Fr. Jenkins on this issue.”

Regrettably, the reply subtly and perhaps unintentionally denigrates Fr. Jenkins. If he has genuine interest in dialogue, students aren't needed to demonstrate it.

Student activism, however necessary, has its risks.

ND Response's proposal for a “pro-life ombudsman” resembles the decades-old left-wing student activist custom of placing themselves and their fellow travelers in the university establishment.

While ND Response's efforts may be more beneficial than, for instance, the creation of yet another assistant provost for diversity position, too much success means the local pro-life movement might calcify into another self-serving bureaucracy.

Then there is the danger present when young people mistrust their elders and set themselves up as the overconfident judges of the establishment's virtue. Lacking the social graces of age, some then poorly conceal their inexperience with self-righteous postures.

Yet these troubles only threaten because of the failings of the university leadership.

As Plato noted, it is a sign of social disorder when teachers fear their pupils, the wisdom of the young man is “a match” for the elder, and the old “imitate the jaunty manners of the young because they are afraid of being thought morose.”

If such concerns are kept in mind, then ND Response could provide a model for breaking out of the self-defeating habit that is the protest cycle.


Todd said...

The student proposals you describe do not only show a good dollop of naivete, but they also indicate a moral hubris. A pride to which their elders in the pro-life movement are often blind.

Is there anything to speak of a promised commitment of student groups? A number of volunteer hours at Birthright South Bend? Academic explorations of the issue outside the realm of emotional activism?

"Dialogue" and "heretic" have become code words. Now they mean "We talk to you," and "We don't like you," respectively. Not unlike a curious reverse penned by Lincoln's Bishop B: "Catholic=people who agree with me."

Anonymous said...

Todd, in response to your question, yes! The pro-life student groups regularly volunteer at Birthright and other crisis pregnancy centers. They offer counseling and assistance (including routes to financial assistance) for those who are considering abortion but might keep their baby or offer it for adoption if other avenues were available.

And, most certainly, there are many academic explorations, such as yearly "Identity Project" and "Edith Stein Conference" about women's identity, including the issues of sexuality and abortion.

As a Notre Dame grad student, I have first-hand knowledge of these activities.

Anonymous said...

All of this discussion would be a mute point if only Fr. Jenkins would demonstrate his unfailing loyalty to Christ and His Church and to the university's patron , the Blessed Virgin. All of this should be no surprise to anyone, given his track record. One has only to look at the failure to ban the Vagina Monologues from the campus to know that the ideology of a "liberal edcuation" has superceded the adherence to Catholic doctrine.

There is no real need for "dialogue". What is needed is for Fr. Jenkins to simply follow the example of the great saints, like St. Louis de Monfort who were dedicated to Our Lady. I have no doubt that if Our Lady were to stand before Fr. Jenkins he would know exactly what she wished ... and there would be no debate.

As the Nike ad says ... Just do it!

WLindsayWheeler said...

From Plato (the linked section of the Republic): "You will remember that in the oligarchy were found two classes--rogues and paupers, whom we compared to drones with and without stings. These two classes are to the State what phlegm and bile are to the human body; and the State-physician, or legislator, must get rid of them, just as the bee-master keeps the drones out of the hive."

What does Nature teach? Does not the bad apple ruin the bushel?

Evil must be plucked out....Must have gotten RID of! Fr. Jenkins is a disgrace to his Christian baptism. The Board of Trustees of that College must remove him at once---disgrace him and kick him out.

For too long, Catholic Universities and Colleges have accepted heretics and infidels into their administration and faculty. That is not wisdom. This "tolerant" free inquiry is not wisdom but foolishness of the highest degree.

Psalm 1 says, "Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly..." Yet, many Catholic administrators and faculty have done just that and the Catholic Trustees have allowed "men who cavorted with ungodly counsel" to teach and preach at their schools.

You don't let evil people, people with ungodly counsel into Catholic institutions and schools. Fr. Jenkins needs to be removed with haste and with prejudice.

But because the Church is full of unmanliness and cowardice I doubt that will be accomplished. The Church can not be salt of the earth, if the Church has lost its saltiness, it has lost all reason to exist and this situation is a very good example of the total failure of Christian education and practice.

WLindsayWheeler said...

Jesus had the fortitude to grab whips and drive the moneychangers from the Temple in order to defend His Fathers Honor.

What Lesson did the Lord teach? What is the Example of the Lord?

Fr. Jenkins and his ilk need to be driven from their posts. Did Jesus stomach the moneychangers in the Temple? NO. Why should we tolerate heretics and judas goats in positions of trust and fidelity?

Fr. Jenkins needs to be forcefully removed.