Faculty Senate Snubs President

In this bulletin, we lead with an account of a stunning rebuff by the Notre Dame Faculty Senate of Father Jenkins for his participation in the March for Life, further evidence of the radically weakened Catholic presence on the faculty.In a sharp blow at the pro-life cause at Notre Dame, the Faculty Senate recently refused to support either Father Jenkins’s participation in the March for life or  the recommendations of his Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life.

This is the same Faculty Senate that:

  • Proclaimed in 2008 that the University “should not compromise its academic aspirations in its efforts to maintain its Catholic identity,” and
  • In 2009 declared, “The Faculty Senate supports the decision of Fr. Jenkins to invite President Barack Obama to deliver this year’s commencement address and to bestow upon him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.”

The Senate’s refusal now to offer a modest gesture of approval of Fr. Jenkins’s Task Force and even of his participation in the March for Life is compelling support for our principal message: The gravely weakened Catholic character of the faculty has resulted in a gravely weakened Catholic character of the school.

The Irish Rover disclosed this sorry episode in a lead article  that provides the details.  Here is the sum of it:

The key passage of the resolution offered by Dr. Philip Bess, Director of Graduate Studies in the School of Architecture,  was this:

The Faculty Senate … wishes to commend the ongoing public witness of Fr. Jenkins, his Task Force … the Coordinator of University Life Issues, and most especially Notre Dame students, to a culture of life.

The resolution had been reworked in committee to forestall objection to such a point that it might be thought a “hold your nose” vote for pro-life members. It did not merely emphasize the undoubted right of faculty to disagree. It reached out much further by recalling the Faculty Senate’s praise of Fr. Jenkins for the honoring of President Obama and by urging the Administration “to strive in all programs and policies to be faithful to the full spectrum of Catholic Social Teaching.”

To no avail. The resolution was defeated by a thumping 22 to 8 vote.

As Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., the President of  the Notre Dame Chapter of Faculty for Life, said to The Rover:

The vote is a serious disappointment and hopefully does not reflect the views of the faculty as a whole. That the faculty senate failed to approve a modest resolution affirming Fr. John Jenkins’s witness to the sanctity of life is very sad indeed and reflects poorly on the faculty senate.

One could hope with Fr. Miscamble that the vote “does not reflect the views of the faculty as  whole,”  but it would be hope without evident reason.

The Senate, after all, is an elected “assembly through which the faculty can exercise a collective and independent voice in the governance of the University.” More significantly, as we have repeatedly pointed out, committed Catholics indisputably are now but a minority of the faculty.

So-called “check-the-box” Catholics comprise 53% of the faculty. Discounted on even the most optimistic basis for merely nominal and dissenting Catholics, the number falls well below 50%. (If the division is roughly the same as that between practicing and non-practicing Catholics in the general population,  practicing Catholics on the Notre Dame faculty would constitute around 35% of the faculty.)

As we have repeatedly emphasized, this means that the University fails its own test for Catholic identity.  It is no longer a matter of “preserving” Catholic identity. It is a matter of attempting to recover it.

The radical shrinking of a Catholic faculty presence has obvious consequences for life issues, since non-practicing Catholics are far more likely to be pro-choice than the general population while practicing Catholics are far more likely to be pro-life.

Is it any wonder, then, that, as we have reported, a recent survey showed that the proportion of pro-choice students increases sharply while they are at Notre Dame to the point that there is no difference between Notre Dame graduates and the general population?

There is another consideration that bears mention. The yearning for acceptance by secular academe that is so evident in much of what the University does appears to have played a role here. The Rover reported:

One senator expressed concerns that the resolution might alienate some outside the university, especially since many ‘already view the university as a peculiar place at which to pursue research.’

We end this account on that sad but instructive note.


Annual Sycamore Breakfast
The Sycamore Trust annual breakfast meeting will be held at Notre Dame on the morning of Saturday June 4th during Reunion Weekend. We will send a formal announcement and reservation form shortly, but it would be very helpful if those who think they will likely attend would send us an e-mail now. As usual, we will hear from faculty and others and will invite questions and encourage discussion.  Guests are of course welcome.

Fr. Jenkins and Archbishop Chaput on religion and politics
The student Right To Life Club hosted a notable event when one of the country’s most prominent bishops, Archbishop Charles Chaput,  spoke on faith and politicsas part of the Club’s lecture series. Coincidentally, Father Jenkins followed with a talk on the same subject at Emory University. Both addresses are thoughtful and  merit your attention. AB Chaput is perhaps more resolute, Father Jenkins more pacific. (You may be interested also in AB Chaput’s response to a question about Communion and pro-choice politicians.)

But there is one troubling part of Father Jenkins’s talk: his call for “epistemic humility” in debating important moral issues.   Citing as examples the Church’s abandonment of the Ptolemaic model of the universe and its modified teaching on usury, Fr. Jenkins says, “We have seen changes in our understanding of what has been divinely revealed and how we understand that revelation” and “can expect [such changes] to occur in the future.”

Father Jenkins seems to us quite clearly to be saying that those advocates inspired by the Church’s teaching on such issues as abortion and homosexuality should be more accommodating – his word is “flexible” — because they might be wrong. The Church might change its mind. Read section 4(2) and judge for yourselves.

God Debate II
God Debate II played to a packed auditorium a few weeks ago. The topic: “Is Good from God?” The contestants:  New Atheist polemicist Sam Harris and evangelical philosopher William Lane Craig. You can view it on YouTube. (Last years’s God Debate on whether God exists featured atheist propagandist Christopher Hitchens and Catholic apologist Dinesh d’Souza. It’s also on YouTube.)

An excellent article will tell you all you want to know. The principal promoter of these debates was a professed student atheist, sided by another student atheist and supported by an assistant dean. “Most department heads said no” until Father Hesburgh gave his endorsement, after which “everyone else fell in line.” The students “seeded controversy” by getting a fellow student who had “attended Catholic schools most of her life” to “come out publicly as an atheist” in an op-ed piece. Her English Department professors “cheered her on.” One of Harris’ arresting contributions: “Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice.”

Dr. John O’Callaghan, director of Notre Dame’s  Jacques Maritain Institute, has written in Great God, the Great God Debate what needs to be said about this kitschy treatment of a profoundly important question.

Of course academic freedom affords license. But praise the reviewer who drily concluded:

“Sometimes, at a God debate or a football game, the best
you can hope for is a decent after-party.”

Homosexual issues survey
In yet another significant investigative report, The Irish Rover described and dismantled through faculty interviews a questionnaire circulated by the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s (GALA) and the student Progressive Student Alliance.These organizations have sought approval of a homosexual club and inclusion of sexual orientation in the school’s non-discrimination clause, so far unsuccessfully. The questionnaire asks about support for such a club, among other things. If the questionnaire has not been closed down, you may participate at, and we suggest you do. Doubtless  members and friends of GALA have.

The Irish Rover
Finally, we hope these Irish Rover pieces prompt you to look further at its websiteto see what these talented and courageous students do and to subscribe if you haven’t. The Internet edition costs but $15.00 a year, the printed $35.00. The financial help Sycamore and its supporters  provided in the fall got the paper through a financial crisis, and  the students have produced truly impressive work this year under the leadership of its gifted editor-in-chief Gabby Speach.  Gabby will be our student honoree this year at our June meeting. The equally talented executive editor, Claire Gillen, who was also co-chairperson this year of the Edith Stein Conference, assumes the first chair next year.
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