This blog is a place for Notre Dame students and others to share their thoughts on Father Jenkins' forthcoming policy on academic freedom and Catholic identity at Our Lady's University.

Friday, February 03, 2006

True Academic Freedom

It is said that the premise of a disagreement is seeing the same things. You cannot claim to disagree with someone else if you are not talking about the same thing. Clearly, with the current debate about academic freedom and our Catholic character, opposing parties are not seeing the same thing.

On the one hand, we have those who push for the promotion of this so-called academic freedom. Violence against women is most definitely a topic that needs to be addressed. Rape, incest, and brutality—none of these particularly heartwarming—but these are matters that cannot be ignored in spite of their unpleasant nature. More stunning than the shock value they carry is the reality that they all embrace, they are true occurrences that happen whether or not we are aware of them in our Notre Dame bubble. Similarly, there are issues of homosexuality and all the emotional and societal implications this carries—this yet another reality we cannot ignore. These are issues that must be addressed. For the sake of the preservation of our academic freedom, they must be addressed; we’d be at moral odds if we didn’t.

And yet, we have the “suppression” of two events that claim to do just that, the Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival. Is this really academic freedom? Now, let us consider what is really meant by academic freedom.

First let us consider the notion of freedom. It would be absolutely false to say that freedom implies doing whatsoever one pleases without restraint; in fact, that would be a hindrance to our freedom. It is only within the rules of a particular context that we are truly free. We are only free to speak if we follow the rules of language, only free to write if we follow the rules of grammar, only able to enjoy a game of basketball if we abide by its rules, that is, what makes up the game. In brief, one could say that rules define what freedom is in any particular area. And if we are talking about academic freedom, then what are the rules of our game? Those would be the rules of academia which the dictionary defines as “an environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship,” in other words we are concerned with the freedom regarding the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Yet, more importantly, it is fundamental that we remember that we are a Catholic University (Catholic first); that we are conformed to a Catholic character. Though the student population may not be made up of all practicing Catholics, that does not deny the reality of the university as one that promotes and abides by what Catholicism is. It is also important to understand what Catholic, or “universal” isn’t: by saying “Catholic” we do not mean to say that we believe anything and everything. And here is where the premise of disagreement proves crucial. Once both sides see what the rules of the game are, once they are seeing the same things, they can begin to see where the nature of the disagreement lies.

Even when understanding and abiding by what our Catholic character implies, does this mean that there is a limit to what we are to learn? Yes, to be entirely honest there is, but it is a limit that abides to our identity, to our very Catholic nature. That is not to say we don’t get a wide range of many a time opposing views. Philosophy studies everything from St. Thomas Aquinas to Nietzsche and his superman. Psychological studies may involve topics as diverse as Freud and Paul VI’s Humane Vitae. Yet, if we were to explicitly promote a view that went against our very nature—this as opposed to merely presenting it and studying it—we would be denying that nature. We would cease to uphold the ideal of a Catholic university.

Furthermore, it is important to mention that Fr. Jenkins called academic freedom “essential to a university” and went on to say that “It ensures that faculty have the ability to research, create, teach, and express themselves in accord with their own best judgment.” Crucial to point out here, is “in accord to their own best judgment,” which implies, in some very pop culture terms, that “with great power comes great responsibility,” or in the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman, “conscience has rights because it has duties.” In brief, we must always consider the big picture.

And what is the big picture? The Queer Film Festival and the Vagina Monologues have stirred much debate, and rightly so. Are the themes they seek to raise awareness to being properly addressed? I wouldn’t make such lofty claims. Can we improve? I believe so whole-heartedly. But are the means they use the proper ones? I don’t believe so, and Fr. Jenkins, within his authority as President, and fulfilling his responsibility in protecting our Catholic character doesn’t either. More importantly, in seeking to find proper means for a noble cause, I believe we are upholding the nature of the University that Fr. Sorin founded, and that Our Lady and Mother holds so dear.

Victor Saenz
Knott Hall

1:55 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

mmm... Paul VI's Humanae Viatae.

7:32 AM  
Anonymous The Editors said...

The editors blush at not having caught that error the first time around. It has been amended.

2:34 PM  

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