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Pence’s Turn for Student Brickbats

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Now it is protests by Notre Dame students against Vice President Pence as commencement speaker rather than against President Trump that have drawn national attention.


Notre Dame’s honoring of President Obama in 2009 continues to dog the university. The university’s having Pence instead of Trump as commencement speaker appears designed to mollify Trump supporters while yielding to intense faculty and student hostility to Trump. Father Jenkins perhaps hoped those who might otherwise grumble about Pence would hold off in gratitude.

As we suggested in our earlier bulletin, that was unlikely to work.

It hasn’t.

As the student publication The Observer reported, the invitation divided the student body. Praise was countered by criticism from representatives of a number of student organizations who decried Trump’s positions on religious liberty and same sex marriage – “homophobic” – on abortion – “sexist” – and on immigration – “racist” and “xenophobic.”

That is, Notre Dame students condemned Pence in large measure for his support of the Church’s teachings on marriage, abortion, and religious liberty. Thus,

  • The College Democrats indicted Pence for his support of religious liberty and anti-abortion legislation (“limiting a woman’s right to control her own body”).
  • The gay student club (“PrismND”) declared:The vice president’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community directly contradict the love of God and neighbor that Notre Dame seeks to cultivate.
  • In objecting to Pence, the president of the Black Student Association, “a lesbian herself, brought up Pence’s anti-LGBTQ track record.”
  • The Vice President of the Coalition for Immigration Advocacy called the invitation to Pence “a slap in the face.”

The recent launch of a #‎NotMyCommencementSpeaker campaign has generated the most comment. It opened with a group of students demonstrating over several days with whiteboards displaying, according to the campaign’s Facebook page, “direct quotes that are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, offensive, or ostracizing to members of our community” or that show why the students “feel unsafe with the presence of Mike Pence on our campus.”

An organizer explained that this opened a campaign aimed at “giv[ing] a voice to those who have been silenced” at a school in which the “dominant narrative” is that of “white, conservative Catholics.” The whiteboard display is to be “the first step in fostering a greater dialogue about Pence’s invitation.”

The campaign is supported by a “Letter to the Class of 2017” on social media that, as of April 12, had drawn 1,651 “alumni/ae, faculty, and staff signatories.” It is addressed “particularly to those [students] who feel marginalized or threatened by” Pence, ” a person who “actively opposes [a] sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good.”

It is the bizarre notion that students could feel “threatened” by the appearance of this mild-mannered deeply Christian man that caught the public eye when it was voiced by one of the student “whiteboard” organizers. She declared:

[M]any people on our campus…feel unsafe to have someone who openly is offensive but [sic] also demeaning of their humanity and of their life and their identity.

This startling profession of fear of Pence headlined the cascade of news reports that followed and triggered a tsunami of twitter ridicule. For accounts, see The Kansas City StarThe Washington ExamineThe National ReviewNewsweek, Washington TimesCanada Free Press, and Independent Journal ReviewMediaIte, Western Journalism, Fox News Insider, The Blaze, The Daily Caller, Campus Reform, and The College Fix.

Two recent segments on Fox TV brought this episode to national attention, one on the widely watched “The Five” and the other on the Fox Business Channel. You can see them here and here.

On Fox Business, after a chuckling moderator introduced the topic as “another case of college craziness run amok, ” the panelists alternated between amusement and bemusement at the image of college students being fearful of one of the “nicest guys in the world.”

“The Five” discussion was more substantial. In this lead-in segment, the moderator bitingly observed that, while Pence “has no criminal record,” he does have “certain views on same-sex marriage and abortion” that might make some students “fearful” – “students who go to the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic school!”

Another panelist read a part of Notre Dame’s mission statement and said “you could pretty much apply that to Pence.” And a liberal Democrat panelist, Juan Williams, closed with this:

Let me tell you what’s going on here. They [the students] didn’t want Trump to speak and prevented an invitation, which is almost pro forma that Notre Dame invites the new president the first year. So they get Pence in place and then get the college Democrats and the diversity council and the gays, all that. When they say I don’t want to hear you because I disagree with you, I find that appalling.

All of this is, to adapt a legal metaphor, the fruit of a poisonous tree, the Obama episode and Father Jenkins’s defense that he was simply following Notre Dame’s tradition of inviting elected presidents no matter their hostility to Church teaching. The accounts of the student anti-Pence protests regularly refer to these events as the background for the student petitions that Trump not be invited and the university’s turning to Vice President Pence instead.

That evident capitulation drew the scorn of many, including the prominent liberal political journalist and Notre Dame alumna Melinda Henneberger:

The absolute worst message for college graduates isn’t what they’d hear from Donald Trump or Mike Pence or Barack Obama or Bernie Sanders. The worst message is the one Father Jenkins sent Notre Dame students when he indulged their preference to only hear from those with whom they already agree.

Grave mistakes that are defended rather than acknowledged are likely to cause continuing damage. Had Father Jenkins confessed error in inviting Obama and scrapped the demonstrably infirm practice of honoring presidents no matter what, Trump’s election would not have cornered him. But he did not, and it did.


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17 Responses to “Pence’s Turn for Student Brickbats”

  1. Nick Bigelow '96 April 24, 2017 at 5:54 am

    Jenkins’ actions and inactions have certainly been shameful. However, let’s not mistake them for capitulation. Even if 100% of the student population was clamoring for Trump to speak in May, his postmodern sense of Christianity would have prevented him from extending the invitation. Unfortunately, the majority of the (highly non-Catholic) faculty and a loud faction of the student body are in sync with his academia-poisoned thought process.

    • William E Dotterweich April 24, 2017 at 7:40 am

      If President Trump had been invited to be the commencement speaker, then Notre Dame would have been instantly transformed into the University of Missouri.

  2. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-noncontradiction/

    The Law of NonContradiction makes it clear that one cannot be for Christ if one is against Christ. We can know through both Faith and reason that one cannot be affirming God’s Truth about the Sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, and the Sanctity of marriage, and thus the Sanctity of the marital act, while condoning the acts of abortion and/or same-sex sexual relationships, simultaneously.
    It is thus not possible for those who condone and affirm the Sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, and the Sanctity of marriage and thus the Sanctity of the marital act, and those who condone and affirm abortion and same-sex sexual relationships to both be in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

    There Is no division in The Body of Christ.

  3. Leo P. Callaghan, '55 April 22, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    To the “students” of Notre Dame…To you, I am homophobic..I am against same sex marriage. I am racist..I want security on our borders and justice for legitimate immigrants whether they be from the eastern or western hemisphere. Yes, I am sexist…I am eternally against the murder of a vulnerable and innocent CHILD. Our ND ‘snowflakes’ feel unsafe because catholic/evangelical christian will speak at graduation. To the president of ND, Our Lady’s University will reap the whirlwind. Thankfully, God is merciful. His judgment of us and our University would be catastrophic!

  4. James J.Holstein,M.D. April 22, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    I am not a Notre Dame graduate, i am a graduate of another Catholic university, Villanova. Recognizing that I am from a much different generation, I have always felt that core of a Catholic undergraduate education was reinforcement of the teachings of our Catholic faith. With each of these incidents, not only at Notre Dame, there is a further compromise of our faith. One does not get to pick and choose which parts of our Faith are worthy of adherence. The fundamental violations of Natural Law and Catholic theology ,advocated in a prochoice and pro same sex marriage position, are in direct opposition to our Faith and Morals. These positions have no place on the campus of a Catholic university, let alone one dedicated to Our Blessed Lady.

    For the President and faculty of Notre Dame to not speak out against such positions demonstrates a lack of dedication to fulfilling their roles as educators and examples of adults living our faith. Without adherence to the doctrines of our Faith, what is the justification for the existence of a Catholic university. I fear that with each year, we approaching the point where “the inmates are running the asylum”. Failure to assume the role of a Catholic educator and failure to ensure the ongoing teachings of the Church, while identifying the moral failures of present day society, is moral malpractice.

  5. Of course, it is true that students are young, but a good many seem able to grow up at young ages. May I suggest you pick up The Irish Rover, a real joy for the present and a hope for the future. https://irishrover.net/

  6. Sadly, although I still love Notre Dame and feel at home whenever I go to campus, it is quickly losing its Catholic identity in the pursuit of becoming a global research institution. Our older daughter, the 4th of our 7 children, will attend Notre Dame in the fall despite its liberal pockets on campus, and other “warts”. Our son had a wonderful academic education in the College of Engineering, and a great ROTC experience, and that has given him even greater opportunities that he is now experiencing. And we avail ourselves of the sacramental opportunities at ND that our small-town rural Indiana area cannot always offer. But in all honesty, we don’t choose Notre Dame for anything other than educational and career objectives, and I truly wish that were different.

    I look forward to hearing Mike Pence on campus for commencement on May 21, and strongly suspect that the “student” protesters will be mostly hired hands, the usual modus operandi of the left.

  7. Robert Branick April 21, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    Just got back from a visit to Portland U. My grandson is deciding where to go. Portland U., now, is the N.D.U. when I was at N. D. in the ’50;s. The tragic difference for N.D. vs P. U. , is that N. D. got stuck with Fr. Jenkins, instead of Fr. Mark Porman, now driving P. U. to a top level of Univ. performance and respect. Grandson will decide – Gonzaga, U. of Oregon, Williamiette, St. Mary’s, Portland, Etc. – not even a thought about about rejection by N. D. I will try to stay out of it, but think my disgust with Notre Dame cannot be disguised, even to all the N. D. grads in his family. Will be happy to unload June 1, at our 60th reunion.
    Dr, Bob Branick, ’57

  8. Enjoyed the previous comments & many of us depression babies jumped with joy when we rec’d our acceptance to what our/my society regarded as the Catholic West Point… our generation praised young ladies who visited our campus on weekends – then Father Ted stated that ND WILL go co-ed; we must put a stop to young men behave like the animals at feeding time at the Bronx Zoo… we spent 4 years with an all male environment; priests, professors, dorm classmates – then went into, in my case, an all male engineering profession: NEVER once did we evaluate our men as “gay” (then queer) – we all worked together and solved problems etc. SO! what is al of this nonsense about segregating OUR NOTRE DAME FAMILY – shame Rev J. Thanks Dr. Dempsey for your continued efforts to make “NOTRE DAME GREAT AGAIN

  9. Geirge Thomas McTernan /59 April 21, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    Upon graduation, these men & women should have to perform two years of service, military or n0n-military, in either the Middle East or Africa, this would present the in a different venue than where they have spent their last four years. The behavior of these students nauseate me as do the “professors” who fed them this garbage.. I recommend that everyone should read the “Big Agenda” by David Horowitz. He explains where all of this garbage emanated from!!!!

  10. Geraldine Ventura April 21, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Well it is no longer a “Catholic” school, so what would you expect? Spending $63,000 a year to learn liberal ideas that go against the Church’s teachings is a big waste. Shame on the faculty and administration for turning the students into snowflakes!

  11. John McNamara '86 April 21, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Here is an irony: by failing to teach Notre Dame students the reasoning behind basic Catholic beliefs in mandatory theology classes, and failing to teach the benefits of open discussion over moral and political topics, without resorting to demonizing the other side, the Holy Cross order of priests is probably laying the groundwork for its eventual removal from the University of Notre Dame, not its voluntary departure. We all know that the number of new priests has been in steep decline over the years, which is why it was harder to find a Holy Cross priest to succeed Fr. Malloy when he retired and which is why the VP of Notre Dame is not a priest. Similarly, Catholic University of America recently appointed a lawyer, who was not a priest, as the president of the Pope’s university in the United States. Now if most university professors and deans are liberals, like our own Notre Dame students, and when Jenkins retires or his successor retires and a lay person with an academic background is appointed president of Notre Dame, what do you think is going to happen to “white conservative Catholicism” at Notre Dame and “those black shirted thugs who for years imposed their repressive ideology on poor women, minorities and homosexuals”? A center for queer studies will be built where the log chapel used to stand, Moreau Seminary will be a new Moreau Planned Parenthood facility and the Holy Cross order will be asked to leave as “reparation for their decades of abusive conduct towards students”, Think about it Holy Cross fathers and brothers,it’s not that far away, you all won’t be dead by then and your religious and academic legacy will be gone. Maybe it’s time to work a little harder on spreading the word about basic Catholic beliefs, so that students understand them, rather than in abstract, sleep provoking, uninspiring lectures. Try to be a friend and reach out to students and be missionaries to the young pagan liberal secular humanists coming to Notre Dame from the large northeastern cities, just as Father Moreau reached of to the Potawatamies and the pioneers of norhern Indiana. YOUR future may depend on it.

  12. Somewhat ironically, without the Obama debacle, the misguided tradition of the presidential invitation, and all of the reactions to the election of President Trump on the campus and beyond, an immediate past governor of Indiana who had just been elected Vice President of the United States and has taken positions parallel to the Catholic Church on the issues which have been at the heart of its social doctrine for centuries, but particularly the last 50 – 75 years, ought to be a popular choice for a commencement speaker.

    In a point one would hope would not have had to be made at Notre Dame even as it has had to be made at many other Catholic universities, no student or faculty member coming to Notre Dame has any legitimate expectation that they will not be exposed to the doctrinal positions of the Catholic Church in any number of settings on the Notre Dame campus and within the Notre Dame community. No student, faculty member, or guest should come to any Catholic university’s campus with any expectation that they will not be exposed to these teachings in a variety of situations. If they find even the expression of these teachings offensive they need to choose a different academic institution!

  13. What is “many” as in “students feel unsafe”? Will Pence bring goon squads to commencement?
    These aren’t children, they are secular communists with their heads full of rubbish from a secular progressive faculty.
    Juan Williams’ take on it is the first thing he’s said that didn’t get me angry. He’s spot on.

    Danboy

  14. William J. O'Connor April 21, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    When the real Notre Dame existed with a real president, he said: ” Diverse views are welcome at Notre Dame, they are an integral part of the educational process.” Maybe these spoiled brats can pelt Pence into submission with abortion pills.
    Bill O’Connor

  15. Mark Sellner ND Dad '17 April 21, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    I agree, billyd, but I expect more for $66,395 per year. These snowflakes are at the wrong school, and hopefully not on scholarship. Yet, we are all asked to give without question during Notre Dame Day. Make a contribution to the Sycamore Trust instead, and let the Administration know why.

  16. What is too-often overlooked is that college students are, in the main, just children. They are not adults. They are not grown up people. They are pubescent children too easily influenced by the left wing, irresponsible faculty in the College of Arts and Letters. Notre Dame has seen better days and is in the midst of a long decline initiated by Rev. Hesburgh which is largely reflected in the majority of faculty who do not respect Catholic teaching. The students are being manipulated by forces they don’t begin to understand. Sad little tykes, looking for safe spaces.