We pick up where we left off before the holidays in chronicling events involving politics and public figures bearing on Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. In our last bulletin we described administration and faculty pro-Biden partisanship and faculty opposition to Judge Amy Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. We now report more developments along these lines together with a COVID-19 imbroglio entangling Father Jenkins and scorching the university. The election itself and its radioactive aftermath are outside our mission, but some university reactions are not, as we will show in a subsequent bulletin.
Student Anti-Barrett Demonstration
“We need to talk about the elephant in the womb.”
“I like to kiss girls. Deal with it.”
“You can’t pray the gay away.”
“Do I have to pretend to be straight now?”
“My body my choice.”
“Land of the freedom to be LGBT.”
“Here and Queer.”
“My body not your choice.”
Here’s a video of both the demonstration and an overlapping pro-Barrett demonstration of about 60 students.
Muffett McGraw Joins the Protests
The Women’s March is pro-abortion and pro-LGBTQIA.
A student government election mock pre-election survey disclosed a good deal about student political attitudes free of the distortion that might affect a poll taken in the wake of the controversy over Trump’s post-election actions. The poll showed a majority liberal student body and a more than 2 to 1 vote for Biden.
Specifically, students were 54% liberal, 12% moderate, and 34 % conservative. In party affiliation, they were 35.6% Democrat and 25% Republican, with the rest “Independent” or unaffiliated.
On the election, the gap widened. With 3,499 out of 8,700 eligible students participating – a 40.22% turnout – 66.5% were for Biden/Harris and a scant 29.3% for Trump/Pence. (In Arts and letters, 74% were for Biden.)
In students’ ranking of issues, “Racial Inequality/Law & Order” and “Climate Change” took first and second place. Abortion, declared by United States bishops the “preeminent” issue, came in 4th, and religious liberty didn’t place at all.
It is interesting, if disquieting, to note that Notre Dame’s 65.5% vote for the Biden pro-abortion anti-religious liberty ticket was virtually identical to Yale students’ 67%. A survey of the 2020 incoming Yale class disclosed that “a majority did not hold particularly strong religious beliefs, if any at all.”
As has been widely publicized, Father Jenkins’s attendance sans mask at the crowded White House Rose Garden ceremony in which President Trump formally announced his nomination of Judge Barrett triggered feverish faculty denunciation and a call for a no confidence vote by the Faculty Senate.
This extravagant outburst eventually tailed off into a muffled expression of “disappointment” in Jenkins — but what was this outsized assault on Jenkins all about?
The facts are straightforward.
The President invited Father Jenkins to this event to represent the University. He was tested for COVID-19 on arrival, cleared, and told he need not wear a mask. Far the majority did not, although Law School Dean Marcus Cole, seated next to Jenkins, did. There was no social distancing at the outdoor event.
Unhappily, Father Jenkins and ten others contracted COVID-19, a result that received nationwide attention with a recurring spotlight on Father Jenkins’s violation of the rules he had set for students.
Upon his return to campus, Father apologized in a statement and then, fulsomely, in this video.
But that wasn’t good enough for many.
Hundreds of students petitioned the Student Senate to call for Jenkins’s resignation; the student newspaper blasted him; and a sizable number of faculty called upon the Faculty Senate for a vote of no confidence.
The implausible student petition failed, but the faculty challenge was more serious. The no confidence resolution initially fell short by only one vote in the Faculty Senate. The Senate thereupon reconvened, heard another apology from Father Jenkins, and passed a substitute resolution (29-13) accepting his apology and expressing its “disappointment” in his behavior.
The interesting question is why these faculty pressed for a formal sanction notwithstanding Jenkins’s swift and unqualified confession of personal failure. He is paying a heavy price in humiliation and reduced stature within and without the university. Witness how USA Today’s sports columnist feels free to mock the priest-president of Notre Dame as “Father Super-Spreader.”
We think it plain enough that the faculty campaign for a no-confidence vote was fueled by resentment over Jenkins’s attendance at the White House celebration of the Barrett nomination, which these faculty opposed, by President Trump, whom they abhor.
Here’s how one of the principal faculty Barrett opponents, Professor Eileen Hunt Botting, described the Rose Garden event:
In what once was a garden of roses, the corrosive love of power drove Barrett and her supporters to worship at the foot of a President who has cynically courted the pro-life lobby only to champion a disastrous pandemic response that has led to over 200,000 American deaths.
We were told to curtail all but the most necessary personal travel.
It is hard to take this seriously. We are speaking of the president of Notre Dame attending the ceremony during which the President of the United States nominated the first Notre Dame figure ever to serve on the Supreme Court. If the President had been Barak Obama and the nominee Ruth Bader Ginsberg, we suspect the faculty motion would have been one of lavish praise rather than harsh denunciation.
It is instructive also that the faculty Senate member presenting the motion (Kartrina Barron) and the other two faculty members supporting it (Richard Williams and Catherine Bolton) quoted by the Chronicle of Higher Education were all signatories of the statement denouncing Barrett that we described in our last bulletin.
Most, if not all, of our readers will have seen publicity about Notre Dame students storming the football field after the win over Clemson in disregard of COVID-19 prevention rules. There was a tsunami of criticism of students and the administration for its failure to control them. Father Jenkins predictably came in for another round of knocks.
An eye-catching example of a “hair-stand-on-end” blast at Jenkins and the University came from the Washington Post’s sports columnist Sally Jenkins. Titled, “ Notre Dame’s president lacked self-control. Its student body is merely following his example,” the article opened with:
How very Fighting Irish, what a classic mixture of high superiority and low, of guilty expediency, of painted-on purity…. Notre Dame [takes] the gate receipts and then blam[es] spectators for the same uncontrolled passions of their unmasked leaders, while making pale after-the-fact confessions and gestures at discipline.
Rather, it is self-evidently the “uncontrolled passions” of Sally Jenkins that is on display. And predictably, so far as we have seen, neither she nor any news organization other than WNDU reported that, because of the pre-game testing of students, “storming the field did not cause a spike in cases,” according to Dr. Mark Fox, Deputy Health Officer of St. Joseph County.
But, so that we are not ourselves open to accusations of suppressing unwelcome news, we note that in other respects the university did not do as well, at least for a time.
A comprehensive study of 30 universities showed that “the initial outbreak at the University of Notre Dame had superspreading-like effects on its home county” and that it experienced the highest incidence of student infection, with 14.5% of the student body having been infected by the end of the fall semester.
At the same time, the study reported, through aggressive mitigation efforts the university “managed to rapidly decrease the spread [and] contain the virus.”
In sum, while Father Jenkins surely would have been better off had he donned a mask and probably also by not taking premature bows for the university in his well-publicized New York Times editorial describing “how we can restore in-person classes safely,” in the end the university seems to be well positioned to provide students with the benefits of a Notre Dame education to the fullest extent practicable in these troubled times.
And that is a good thing.