In a recent issue (vol. vi #5), the independent student publication The Irish Rover featured four articles respecting Catholic identity that cover too many subjects for us to discuss in a single newsletter. Accordingly, we will postpone for now consideration of the story describing the “Fund to Support Human Life,” an important new pro-life University-sanctioned enterprise (p.9), and the article explaining how funds raised through Notre Dame activities on behalf of the Komen breast cancer fund may benefit Planned Parenthood (p.1). Here, we focus principally on a report concerning the Notre Dame Board of Trustees.
First, however, we draw attention to a remarkable account of a recent visit to Chicago by students in a “Cultural Diversity Seminar” sponsored by the Center for Social Concerns, Saint Sabina Welcomes the Cultural Diversity Seminar Students of Notre Dame (p. 5).
Among the trip’s events, a “dinner at a gay bar” was especially noteworthy. It was followed by “a showing of ‘The Ville,’ a performance that include[d] graphic scenes of homosexual activity.” Before that, the students had attended Mass at St. Sabina’s, Father Michael Pfleger’s church. St. Sabina’s had been noted for its “unique restructuring of the Mass, ” but it became truly famous because of Father Pfleger’s oft-televised pro-Obama rant in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church. Father then attracted further attention by “refusing to accept Cardinal George’s reassignment to a new parish.” The trip ended with a session in which “activist Prexy Nesbit” delivered “a political commentary against capitalism.”
Comment seems superfluous.
We turn now to the criteria employed in selecting members of the Board of Trustees. The qualifications for university boards may be varied, but the decisive test is how they relate to the board’s responsibility for fulfillment of the institution’s educational mission. At Notre Dame, it is the inescapable fact that the Board did not check the alarming decline in the proportion of Catholic faculty in recent decades. This default underscores the importance of the commitment of all present Board members to the Catholic mission of the University.
In this context, the front-page article “Board of Trustees Member Supports Vagina Monologues” is deeply unsettling.
The article recounts the association of Cathleen Black, the President of Hearst Magazines, with The Vagina Monologues. Briefly, Ms. Black is “one of only seven members on the V-Counsel,” which helps “guide and support V-Day” in work that includes “college students produc[ing] annual benefit performances of ‘The Vagina Monologues.'” She has declared that the play was “just literally a life-changing experience” for her and that Eve Ensler, the author, “put it right out there in front of people so that you can say the word vagina.”
The article reports also that in a recent talk at Notre Dame Ms. Black described Hearst’s flagship publication, Cosmopolitan, as “a bible, and a playbook for the men as well [as women].” “But,” she jibed, “enough about something we know Notre Dame students never ever think about: sex.” The Rover illustrates with typical titles the supercharged sexual character of the magazine: “Take Your CLIMAX to the MAX: Reach a bigger, better pleasure peak”; “Sex Position of the Week”; and “How to Make Condoms More Fun: He’ll Never Bitch and Moan About Protection Again.”
This talk, it bears noting, was part of a lecture series on business ethics.
Finally, the article reports that Ms. Black, early in her career, was the advertising director of the pioneering feminist magazine Ms. when it launched its campaign to repeal abortion laws. “[A]bortion,” Ms. declared, “is a very important procedure for millions of women.”
The question that is raised by this article applies also with respect to Board member Dr. Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor of the University of California, San Diego, and a leading proponent of embryonic stem cell research. In opposition to the Catholic bishops, Dr. Fox joined those who successfully backed Proposition 71, which authorized public funding of this research without the ethical constraints imposed by President Bush. Her university has “taken a key role ” in the ensuing stem cell research, for it is a major beneficiary of the funding.
Moreover, Dr. Fox is not only a Board member, but was also the Graduate School commencement speaker and the recipient of an honorary degree last June. In these circumstances, the bishops’ declaration in Catholics in Public Life seems applicable:
“Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
(As we were in the final stages of preparing this newsletter for distribution, we received the latest issue of The Irish Rover with an excellent front page article on Dr. Fox. We refer you to it for additional details.)
We invited the University to comment. We wrote, in part:
“Dr. Fox and Ms. Black are, of course, entitled to say and do as they choose and freely to accept honors and positions proffered by the University. Our interest is in the relationship between Catholic identity and the standards applied in the conferring of honors and the selection of Board members.”
On August 22nd, Dennis Brown, the University’s public information Assistant Vice President, wrote: “[W]e will not be responding.”
There is yet one more disquieting case. Another Board member, William Shaw, has been President of Marriott International since 1997. The University’s links with Marriott are substantial. Marriot will have two hotels in the Eddy Street development, for example.
As patrons of Marriott’s hostelries know, the company offers pornographic films for a fee. Marriott’s decision to traffic in pornography has drawn criticism from citizen organizations. Marriott has retorted: “No one has to see it.”
An alumnus, learning these facts, wrote Father Jenkins inquiring why such a corporate violation of Catholic norms did not make Mr. Shaw’s Board position untenable.
In response, Father E. James McDonald, Counselor to the President, said, “[W]e cannot undertake investigations of the business practices of companies with which [trustees] may be associated.”
Having been furnished the correspondence, we wrote Father McDonald seeking clarification. We emphasized that we did “not raise any question as to Mr. Shaw personally,” nor did we “suggest that he leave the Board.” We inquired only, we said, about the “standards the University employs in appointing” trustees. We noted in particular the evident collision between Father McDonald’s disavowal of interest in the actions of trustees’ companies and the University’s policy against investing in companies “whose activities support . . . pornography.” In sum, we wrote, “The notion that the University pays no attention to the morality of the practices of the company of a prospective board member” seemed “simply bizarre.”
On August 22d, Mr. Brown advised us that Father McDonald would not respond.
The selection of trustees is generally a process properly confidential. However, when facts come to light that raise reasonable questions about whether the selection process is adequate to the task, we think alumni are entitled to inquire. In our case, we ask on behalf of thousands. If the University refuses to answer, as here, and no mitigating or exculpating facts spring readily to mind, inferences may reasonably be drawn.
We close, first, by urging you to add your name to our petition through the link below if you have not already done so – the Vagina Monologues issue is likely to loom soon once again – and, second, by expressing the hope that your examination of this issue of The Irish Rover will prompt you to subscribe. It provides information you will get from no other University source, and these courageous and dedicated students deserve support. For a year’s subscription, send a check for $35.00 payable to “The Irish Rover” to PO Box 45, Notre Dame, IN 54556. Additional contributions are tax-deductible, since the Rover is a qualified 501(c) (3) organization.
We close with three suggestions for action by those who share our objectives:
- As we urged in our recent message, support Sycamore through a tax- deductible contribution.
- Add your name to our petition if you have not already done so – the Vagina Monologues issue is likely to loom once again soon.
- Subscribe to The Irish Rover if you are impressed, as we are, with the value of this publication with its motto: “It behooves a watchdog to bark. Good, Rover.” The Rover provides information you will not get from any other University source, and these courageous and dedicated students deserve support. For a year’s subscription, send a check for $35.00 payable to “The Irish Rover” to PO Box 45, Notre Dame, IN 54556. Additional contributions are tax-deductible, since the Rover is a qualified 501(c)(3) organization.