Thursday, February 4, 2010
Today, my distinguished colleague in Theology, Jean Porter, had this letter published in the South Bend Tribune:
As a member of the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, I was dismayed to learn that the university sponsored faculty and student participation in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., and is considering the adoption of a policy statement committing the institution to a pro-life agenda.
Whatever the merits of this agenda may be, I do not see how we as a university can take an official, public stand on such a difficult set of moral and political issues, while at the same time maintaining an atmosphere of free and open inquiry and debate.
We do respect academic freedom at Notre Dame, and I don't expect that anyone here would be penalized for expressing the view that abortion is sometimes morally permissible, or defending a pro-choice political agenda. But when the university takes an official, public stance on these very controversial matters, what kind of signals are we sending to our students and colleagues about the limits of acceptable discourse on campus? How can we educate our students to think for themselves, while at the same time telling them so clearly what they should be thinking, as members of the Notre Dame community?
We worry a great deal here about our character as a Catholic university. Perhaps the time has come to worry a bit more about what it means to sustain our character as a university — as such.
In response, I wrote -- I don't know whether or not it will be published -- this:
My Notre Dame colleague, Jean Porter, is an accomplished scholar, but she is mistaken in thinking that there need be any conflict between Notre Dame's "official, public stand" in support of a "pro-life agenda", on the one hand, and its commitment to academic freedom, on the other.Universities, including Notre Dame, take official, public stands on all kinds of things, all the time -- decent working conditions, the desirability of peaceful resolutions of nations' disagreements, environmental sustainability, etc. Right or wrong, these stands are not inconsistent with a commitment to students' and faculty members' freedom to disagree, or to follow their studies where they lead.Notre Dame's Catholic character is what makes the University interesting, distinctive, and important. The University's pro-life stance reflects and honors that character. And that character, in turn, enriches and broadens the conversations among faculty and students, and makes Notre Dame a better university than it could otherwise be.