Notre Dame and the Election: Apocalypse Now!
Trump’s election was met at Notre Dame with widespread dismay and hostility even though Trump is an ally and Clinton an enemy of the Church on abortion and religious liberty.
NOTRE DAME, IN — This is the last of our bulletins on the election. In the first, we discussed issues directly affecting the Church and Notre Dame: religious liberty, abortion, and the “Dreamers” program for undocumented students.
In our second bulletin, we described Notre Dame and the March for Life and the optimism generated by Vice President Pence’s participation and President Trump’s support.
In this final bulletin, we describe the reaction to the election at Notre Dame and what it may say about the Catholic identity of the university.
It is unremarkable, of course, that President Trump has been criticized at Notre Dame. Catholics and Church leaders have joined others in opposing him on immigration, as they may on other issues. And Trump is an especially inviting target because, as R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things, has said,
His political principles are muddy. His narcissism is towering. And then there’s his contribution to the coarsening of our public life. Under normal circumstances, any one of these factors would be disqualifying. But circumstances are not normal.
Still, given the dramatic difference between Trump and Clinton on abortion and religious liberty, one would expect to see at Notre Dame some expressions, if not of praise, at least of relief.
It is worth recalling the importance of the issues and the times. In their voting guide, the bishops describe abortion as a “preeminent threat to human life” involving “principles that can never be abandoned.” And religious liberty is fundamental to the Church, to schools, and to practicing Catholics. Senator Clinton would have followed President Obama as the Church’s most formidable foe on both fronts, whereas Trump promises to be its ally.
More, this is a crucial time. Both the balance on the Supreme Court and the makeup of the lower courts were at stake. Trump begins with one Supreme Court nomination and 118 lower court vacancies to fill. Pro-life advocates are making headway in state legislatures; funding for Planned Parenthood is in play; Trump has already ended international funding; Notre Dame is locked in litigation over the Obamacare abortifacient/contraceptive mandate; and in litigation that will determine whether Notre Dame is obliged to allow transgender “females” to shower and room with women students, the Trump Justice Department has just foreshadowed a reversal of the Obama administration’s position that the federal prohibition of sex discrimination applies to transsexuals.
As we have reported, the bishops and pro-life organizations understand the situation, as evidently did Catholic voters as well. With abortion and religious liberty identified as principal factors, the Catholic vote swung sharply from 52% to 48% for Obama in 2012 to 52% to 45% for Trump — 56% to 40% for practicing Catholics.
What, then, of Notre Dame?
The dominant public reaction of faculty and students has been one of astonished dismay. That’s how those of us who visited the campus after the election and who have had later contacts see it as well.
We know that many faculty and students don’t share this view, but at Notre Dame as elsewhere the price of allowing that Trump might be preferable to Clinton was to be thought by many a misogynistic bigot. For accounts of this disturbing phenomenon, see this instructive Irish Rover editorial and this heartfelt plea (“I am not a racist!”) by a law student in the Observer.
The only public expressions by faculty in support of the election of Trump that we have found were several collected by The Irish Rover. They include the column by Professor Gerard Bradley that we cited in our first bulletin and also a letter in an exchange to which we now turn.
Post-Trump Stress Disorder
Shortly after the election, a full page letter “To Our Students” from some 320 Notre Dame, faculty and staff, joined by a number of St. Mary’s and Holy Cross faculty, appeared in the Observer. It read in principal part:
We know that you, like many of us, are reeling over the result of the presidential election. You may be fearful of the very real dangers that may be ahead. Some of you might feel even more silenced, wondering if the classmate sitting next to you, your professor, or people in your residence hall actually support the views of [Donald Trump], who made comments that were racist, sexist, elitist, islamophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and homophobic. You may encounter overt signs of these views on campus. Please know that you are not alone. We stand in solidarity with you against hate. We offer you our support and love. We will listen to your anger, fear, and disappointment in a country that may fail to live up to its promise of justice and the blessings of liberty for you. Do not lose heart. We are not powerless. Reach out to any one of us. We are here for you. [Elisions not indicated.]
Dr. Michael J. Crowe, the Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. Professor Emeritus, published his adaptation of the faculty letter in the Irish Rover:
We know that you, like many of us, are reeling over the result of the presidential election. You may be fearful of the very real dangers that may be ahead. Some of you might feel even more silenced, wondering if the classmate sitting next to you, your professor, or people in your residence hall actually support the views of [Hilary Clinton], who made comments supportive of aborting babies right up to the moment of their birth, who advocates continuing funding of an organization that not only does hundreds of thousands of abortions, but also sells body parts from the abortions they perform. This is also a candidate who openly advocates forcing all Americans, including those who see abortion as murder, to give financial support for abortions and would like to force medical professionals who object to performing abortions to be removed from hospital staffs. You may encounter overt signs of these views on campus. Please know you are not alone. We stand in solidarity with you against hate. We offer our support and love. As a start, and at the very least, we will listen to your voices. We will listen to your anger, fear, and disappointment in a country that may fail to live up to its promise of justice and the blessings of liberty for even its most vulnerable members. Do not lose heart. We are not powerless. Please reach out to any one of us. We are here for you.
For us, and surely for many others, this was a triumph for Dr. Crowe. Nonetheless, the public scoreboard showed 320 to 1.
Petition against inviting Trump
Some 2700 faculty, staff, student, and alumni have petitioned Father Jenkins not to invite President Trump to give the 2017 Commencement Address. They charge he is “not only unfit for the Oval Office, but unfit to set foot on our campus.”
The petition professes, “Our concerns are not partisan in nature.” To be sure. The South Bend Tribune reported, “The petition was created by the Notre Dame College Democrats.”
Sanctuary Campus Petitions
There are three petitions to Father Jenkins to declare Notre Dame a “sanctuary campus,” one from the Faculty Senate, one from Student Government, and one from thousands of faculty, staff, and students. We don’t have the text of the Student Government petition. There are significant differences between the other two.
The Faculty Senate petition relates only to the several dozen undocumented Notre Dame students who are protected from deportation by the DACA “Dreamers” program and doesn’t seen to call for illegal resistance.
Still, as we’ve noted, President Trump has said he would “work something out” for these young people, and Speaker Ryan has assured them they won’t be deported. The faculty could have waited and calmed the students’ fears. But then, to be sure, they might have missed riding the anti-Trump “sanctuary campus” wave washing across the academic landscape.
The third petition, with over 4600 faculty, staff, and student signatories, is deeply flawed. The Washington Post recently featured it:
Soon after Donald Trump’s election, [professor] Jason Ruiz helped launch a petition at the University of Notre Dame calling on the president of the nation’s most prominent Catholic school to declare itself a sanctuary campus and offer protections for undocumented students, staff and family members facing the threat of deportation…. A day later, more than 4,600 members of the Notre Dame community had signed on.
This petition covers any undocumented employees and undocumented family members as well as students, and it relates to deportation for any reason, evidently including felony convictions. (When Bill Dempsey asked an organizer about that, she cut off the exchange.) Moreover, according to Professor Ruiz, the petitioners are telling Father Jenkins he “might have to break the law and we support you in that.”
Father Jenkins has not yet responded. Federal money may be at stake.
Had Father Jenkins suggested some good might come from a Trump administration, others might have been willing to speak up. Instead, he has said he may break Notre Dame’s tradition of inviting elected presidents to deliver the Notre Dame commencement address. Moreover, even though Father Jenkins is a public member of the Commission on Presidential Debates, he criticized Trump in Mexico during the campaign as having engaged in “churlish, insulting political theater.”
Finally, a recent faculty panel is instructive.
|First Professor:||It will take a new movement of all Americans to save America from this administration.|
|Second Professor:||I agree wholeheartedly.|
|Third Professor:||[“Arguing that America has always been a place where black and brown immigrants are treated maliciously,” as noted by The Irish Rover’s Drew Lischke] This election has proven that there are still many American who, while not consciously racist, support a systematic oppression of minority groups.|
We could go on, but this seems quite enough. Notre Dame’s public reaction to the election gives scarcely any sign that it is a Catholic university that holds values not shared by secular academe. We are sorry that is so. We expect many faculty and students may feel the same way.
Compare the comments of Dave Andrusko, National Right to Life news editor, on Kellyanne Conway:
Someone who has labored in the trenches for decades on behalf of unborn babies is now in charge of Mr. Trump’s campaign.”
With the characterizations of Eric Love, Notre Dame Director of Staff Diversity and Inclusion, who announced upon arriving at Notre Dame, “I model my strategy after Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and common sense”:
Mr. Love echoes the faculty panelists:
Will someone please get our country back? Now our country will implode.(1.31.17)
And before the election:
Don’t just protest, burn and destroy! REGISTER AND VOTE!!!!! Put people in office who will be responsive to the community!” (9.21.16)
Update on Sanctuary Campus Petitions
February 18, 2017
We reported above that Father Jenkins had not yet responded to the three petitions requesting that he declare Notre Dame a “sanctuary campus” — one from the Faculty Senate, one from Student Government, and the third from over 4,600 faculty, staff and students.
These petitions are part of a tsunami of sanctuary campus petitions in colleges and universities across the country. Still, only 25 or so have been granted. One reason might be that, as we observed, a sanctuary campus declaration might result in the loss of federal funds. Legislation is pending and executive action is possible. We reported in our recent bulletin that Father Jenkins had not yet responded to the three petitions requesting that he declare Notre Dame a “sanctuary campus” — one from the Faculty Senate, one from Student Government, and the third from over 4,600 faculty, staff and students.
We can now report that Father Jenkins has turned down the petitions. In his letter to the Faculty Senate, he said that the University would comply with the law and did not want students to think it might not.
[I] am concerned that such a declaration may give our students a false sense of security. The Senate’s resolution itself recognizes that while the term “sanctuary” could be understood as a place “free from civil intrusion,” the university must comply with subpoenas, court orders and warrants. We do not now, and would not, voluntarily provide information about any student without a clear legal requirement to do so, but we would comply with the law and so cannot promise a campus entirely “free from civil intrusion.” I do not want to appear to make our students a promise on which we cannot deliver.
Father Jenkins also noted, as we did but as the petitioners had not, that “key members of the Administration have either signaled or said that there are no plans to act aggressively against [students] with DACA status,” and that in addition there is protective legislation “working its way through Congress.”
He concluded, “Our time and energy right now is best spent supporting the passage of this act” and “monitoring the situation” in the Administration. He repeated the pledge he had made to the DACA students: “We will do everything we can to ensure that you complete your education at Notre Dame.”
While Father Jenkins’s action does not alter the fact that the public reaction of the Notre Dame community to the election of Trump has been deaf to the religious liberty and pro-life interests of the Church, Catholics, and Catholic institutions, we thought you would want to know how this chapter ended.
For our part, we think it ended well
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