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WHAT IS HAPPENING TO NOTRE DAME ? L. Scott Smith When Heteronomy & Autonomy Collide T he University of Notre Dame rolled out the red plores the roots of this controversy. He traces them to a carpet for U.S. President Barack H. Obama at its statement that emerged from a gathering of priests and May 2009 commencement ceremony. Notre Dame academicians held in 1967 at a university-owned confer- not only invited the President to address the attendees of ence center in Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin. The event took the event but bestowed upon him an honorary Doctor of place under the auspices of the North American region of Law degree as well. Administrators, upon first announcing the International Federation of Catholic Universities, these intentions, provoked indignant and furious protests which was then led by none other than Fr. Theodore M. from many Catholics and others who support the school. Hesburgh, C.S.C., president of Notre Dame at the time. Over 350,000 of them, in fact, petitioned the university’s The “Land O’Lakes Statement,” as it was called, trum- president, Fr. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., to retract the invita- peted the importance of “true autonomy and academic tion, but he refused to do so. None of this kept the most freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or casual and neutral observer from readily grasping the clerical, external to the academic community itself.” Might anomaly. Could it really be that a U.S. President who unre- this have heralded a crucial change at Notre Dame? servedly supports the Freedom of Choice Act and, while an A new institutional identity did indeed follow. The Illinois state senator, was outspoken in his opposition to university aggressively made the transition from a “teach- the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, was to be honored at ing” to a “research” institution. By 2009, 53 percent of its America’s flagship Catholic university? Some onlookers faculty described themselves as Catholic, compared to 80 wondered whether this turn of events signaled a fundamen- percent in the 1970s. tal change by the university in social and moral conscious- In the process of assuming its new character, in 1984 ness. Those dedicated to the Church’s teaching on abortion the university invited New York Governor Mario Cuomo were also asking a question already reverberating through to address the issue of abortion from the perspective of a the sanctums of its hierarchy: “What gives?” or, as Charles Catholic public official. In his address Cuomo boldly dis- E. Rice entitled his recent book on the subject, What Hap- tinguished between public and private morality. He took pened to Notre Dame? the position that one can be “personally opposed” to abor- tion and at the same time publicly support it as an option The Origin of the Problem for others. Illinois congressman Henry Hyde spoke at the Rice, Professor Emeritus of Law at Notre Dame, ex- university eleven days later, taking a position radically opposed to that of Gov. Cuomo. But Hyde’s address was relegated to the student lounge in the basement of the law school, while Cuomo’s took place in Washington Hall. The governor’s address was widely publicized whereas the L. Scott Smith, a Texas attorney and an ordained Dis- congressman’s passed by in virtual obscurity. ciples of Christ clergyman, is the author of America Un- Thereafter, the “autonomy” of the university con- raveling: A Politically Incorrect Analysis of Public Faith tinued to be reflected in the events it sponsored. There and Culture (Father’s Press, 2008). was in 1989, for example, a public screening of The Last 20 New Oxford Review Temptation of Christ, an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s external authority, restriction, and the imposi
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