Maintain Diverse Viewpoints on Notre Dame's Board
We, the Notre Dame family, support the inclusion of diverse schools of thought and opinion on the Board of Trustees, the University’s ultimate governing body. We urge the Board to recall that Notre Dame welcomes scholarly discourse even if it disagrees with any one participant’s personal values. University leadership should therefore reflect this inclusive spirit.
Last month Katie Washington was selected to fill one of two designated seats for recent graduates on the Board, and we fully support her appointment. Washington, a Gary, Indiana native, was the 2010 valedictorian and studied Biology and Catholic Social Teaching. As an undergraduate, she also conducted research on lung cancer, studied infectious disease at the Eck Institute on Global Health and directed the Notre Dame Voices of Faith Gospel Choir. She is now an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Washington has publicly expressed support for universal access to contraceptives. In a 2012 opinion letter to the Baltimore Sun, to which she contributed with nine other Johns Hopkins medical students, Washington defended access to birth control and other preventive measures as a basic human right.
Through Washington’s appointment, the University is in no way espousing her convictions – though medically based – nor is it compromising its own sincerity in its efforts to seek exemption from the Health and Human Services’ mandate to provide contraceptives to all employees.
Notre Dame is first and foremost an institution of higher learning, and as such, seeks to provide an open forum for constructive dialogue and first-rate scholarship.
University President John Jenkins gave the same justification when defending the decision to have President Barack Obama deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2009. Said Jenkins:
“President Obama has come to Notre Dame, though he knows well that we are fully supportive of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life, and we oppose his policies on abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Others might have avoided this venue for that reason. But President Obama is not someone who stops talking to those who differ with him. Mr. President: This is a principle we share.”
Expressing opinions than don’t squarely align with Humanae Vitae doesn’t make one anti-Catholic, but failure to welcome differing viewpoints on any issue is certainly against everything for which higher education stands.
It is for moments like these that Father Theodore Hesburgh advocated so strongly to transition the University's board to a one composed of laymen and laywomen, and even called it “the greatest change made” during his 35 years of presidency at Notre Dame.
““[T]he Catholic university must be a crossroads where all the intellectual and moral currents of our times meet and are thoughtfully considered,” Hesburgh wrote in his 1994 book, “The Challenge and Promise of a Catholic University.”
In his commencement address to Harvard University last month, Michael Bloomberg – after whom was named the school of public health where Washington is pursuing her doctorate – echoed a similar sentiment as he decried partisanship of any sort in America’s universities.
“The role of universities is not to promote an ideology. It is to provide scholars and students with a neutral forum for researching and debating issues – without tipping the scales in one direction, or repressing unpopular views.
University leadership must underscore Notre Dame’s mission to provide discourse in which “the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect with all the forms of knowledge found in the arts, sciences, professions, and every other area of human scholarship and creativity.”