Friday, March 3, 2017
The University of Notre Dame has announced that Vice President Pence will speak at this year's commencement (and receive an honorary degree). There had been a lot of debate, petitioning, etc., in anticipation of the possibility that the speaker and honoree this year would be President Trump.
Time flies: I cannot believe it's been almost 8 years since I wrote, in USA Today, to express (civilly, I hope) my regret and disappointment over the decision to honor then-newly-elected President Obama at Notre Dame's graduation. A little bit later, I wrote this short essay, "Whom Should a Catholic University Honor? Speaking with Integrity."
I am not among those who wanted Notre Dame to invite, or thought Notre Dame should invite, President Trump. Like it did to Fr. Jenkins, it seemed (and seems) to me that such an invitation would unfairly disrupt the students' graduation. Whether or not all of the high-octane, across-the-board opposition to President Trump is warranted (yet), it is simply a fact that his presence and speaking here would be very disruptive and disturbing to many. And, I didn't see that it would somehow "make up" for the honoring of President Obama (which I continue to think was unwarranted -- the honoring, that is) to honor President Trump. Invite him to speak, some time, but, in my view, there's no justification for honoring him.
Some will, I'm sure, protest Vice President Pence's invitation, and some will do so for reasons that, in my view, are reasons to appreciate and respect his service (e.g., he supported and I think is sincerely committed to school choice, abortion regulation, and religious freedom in Indiana -- notwithstanding misleading, inaccurate, and unfair attacks). I did not agree with the (failed) effort to prevent refugees from being resettled in Indiana, but -- in my view -- that effort does not, on balance, make the invitation inappropriate for a meaningfully Catholic university. I think I've come to the view that we should abandon the business of giving honorary degrees to commencement speakers -- or, at least, to elected officials -- but, since we have not, I am inclined to think that Notre Dame made a good decision, both in not awarding an honorary degree to the President and in inviting the Vice President to be the speaker.