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.
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 DisorderShortly 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.]
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.
Petition against inviting TrumpSome 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 PetitionsThere 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.
Father JenkinsHad 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.”
Faculty panelFinally, 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.|
ConclusionWe 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.
PostscriptCompare 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.”
Will someone please get our country back? Now our country will implode.(1.31.17)
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 PetitionsFebruary 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.