SOUTH BEND, IN — In the recent bulletin in which we disclosed the departure from the Notre Dame Board of Trustees of a prominent proponent of embryonic stem cell research (hereafter “ESCR”), Dr. Marye Anne Fox, we said we would examine the University's record respecting this research in a future bulletin. That is what we will do now.
In sum, while we are pleased to report some praiseworthy developments, on the whole Notre Dame's record is not that of a truly Catholic university.
In our prior bulletin we wondered whether anything had happened that might have prompted Dr. Fox to leave the board after almost a decade. She left without a trace — nothing in the news bulletin announcing other changes in the board when she left, no expression of gratitude by the University for her long service, not a word from her. And in telling us that it would “have nothing to add” to its confirmation of Dr. Fox's departure, the University made clear that its silence was deliberate.
It seems unlikely that the University induced Dr. Fox to stand down. Twice elected to the board, she is a nationally prominent educator who was the 2008 Notre Dame graduate school commencement speaker and the recipient of a Notre Dame honorary degree.
But the situation has changed recently. Notre Dame's post-Obama damage control efforts have included the formal adoption of pro-life policy and the highlighting of the University's opposition to ESCR. More, the splendid Fighting to Restore Vision video shown during one of last year's televised football games gave Notre Dame's policy the widest possible publicity.
This accomplished portrayal of Notre Dame's adult stem cell research under the direction of Dr. David Hyde included a forthright declaration of the University's ethical opposition to ESCR — and accordingly by unmistakable implication its opposition to Dr. Fox's prized projects.
This was followed early this past summer by an impressive stem cell conference at Notre Dame organized by two of Notre Dame's leaders in the examination of all aspects of stem cell research, Dr. Phillip Sloan, Professor Emeritus, Program of Liberal Studies, and Professor Carter Snead of the Law School. The conference drew leading experts from across the country.
Would Dr. Fox want to continue on the Board in the face of this ethical censure of the type of research that she champions?
If Dr. Fox was in fact influenced by these considerations, the episode would illustrate a likely, if unintended, benefit of the University's intensive effort to burnish its tarnished image. University publications and spokespersons now regularly testify to the University's allegedly robust Catholic identity. While these claims are true around the edges but false at the core because of the radical erosion of the Catholic faculty presence, they may very well discourage scholars with prestigious credentials but no wish to teach at a genuinely Catholic school from accepting invitations from Notre Dame. Oremus!
We turn now to the dark side. What we have reported is very good. But what we now report is much worse.
In terms of Catholic identity, the fundamental question is whether Notre Dame sets its opposition to ESCR aside when it collides with secular interests it deems more important. The praiseworthy activities that we have listed tell us nothing about that. The following items do.
- The honoring of President Obama in 2009 remains a pre-eminent example of Notre Dame's placing secular values above pro-life values.
The episode cannot be discounted. Father Jenkins has said he "would do it again" and Chairman Notebaert's reaction to the lacerating criticism of 83 cardinals, archbishops and bishops was a no-quarter-given apologia in America.
It is worth pausing to mark Mr. Notebaert's view that bishops have no business criticizing Notre Dame. He disdains even to mention the tsunami of episcopal criticism except to say he was "saddened" that Bishop D'Arcy had not deferred to the university presidents' Land O'Lakes declaration of "true autonomy...in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical." Under Mr. Notebaert's version of Land O'Lakes, evidently Bishop D'Arcy invaded Notre Dame's "autonomy" simply by speaking out.
There could be no plainer rejection of Ex Corde Ecclesiae's description of the relationship between school and bishop that should prevail: "Bishops have a particular responsibility...to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of [the university's] Catholic identity," and "even when they do not enter directly into the internal governance of the University, [they] should be seen not as external agents but as participants in the life of the Catholic University."
- Father Jenkins's announced goal of becoming a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU) is decisive: Once again, Notre Dame places academic prestige above Catholic identity.
The AAU, composed of 61 of the top research universities of the country, pursues aggressively its policy of promoting ESCR and therapeutic cloning. Thus, as Professor Gerald Bradley of the Law School has put it:
- Dissent by faculty moral theologians and the weakness of Catholic presence on the College of Science faculty exacerbates the problem.
As we have reported previously, two of the University's most prominent faculty members have publicly dissented from the Church's teaching on both abortion and ESCR. The University cannot control what they say, but a Catholic university might at least request that they disassociate themselves from the school when they oppose Church and school policy on such important issues.
Of far greater practical concern is the alarming decline of Catholic representation on the science faculty. The “check-the-box” percentage has plummeted from 48% in 1998 to 37% in 2007, the last year before the University decided to stop disclosing these data. Since this number must be discounted to account for non-practicing and dissenting Catholics, and since scientists as a group are overwhelmingly in favor of embryonic stem cell research, the University's policy may not be widely endorsed when the stem cell issue comes up in the classroom.
The new Dean Dr. Gregory Crawford, is an excellent choice by all accounts. He faces a formidable challenge.
Prior to the award, General Electric had embarked upon a major and highly publicized ESCR project. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
The agreement marks the first time that a company of GE's stature and size has announced a business venture involving the controversial field of embryonic stem cells.
Why did Notre Dame again repudiate the bishops' policy? It acted, the University told us, “[i]n appreciation for the company's longstanding support of our Executive MBA programs through the enrollment in recent years of 14 GE employees in our Chicago and South Bend programs.” But, we were assured, the University has “made it clear that [it] fully support[s] all aspects of Church teaching on the sanctity of human life.”
It evidently takes increasingly less for Notre Dame to subordinate that support to secular concerns.
But to be fair about it, GE has done a good deal more for Notre Dame. It is the No. 1 recruiter of Notre Dame MBA graduates; a partner in the Business School's MBA Interterm Intensive program; a significant donor to the University; and until recently the owner of, and still a major stakeholder in, NBC, from whom Notre Dame reaps colossal football television revenues.
GE's Chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, the 2007 Notre Dame commencement speaker and “proud new employer of 25 Irish '07 graduates,” effused:
I like recruiting Notre Dame students, and I like televising your games.
- There is an ironic footnote to the GE story. While the University honors GE and accepts its donations despite its involvement in ESCR, it appears it will not invest its money in GE because of that involvement.
Since the University has represented that it follows the investment policy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and since that policy forbids investing in companies that engage in ESCR, we asked whether Notre Dame invests in GE.
The University spokesperson replied, understandably, that as a matter of policy the University does “not discuss individual companies,” but he assured us that Notre Dame "compl[ies] with the USCCB.” Since the USCCB’s policy is plain, we take this to mean that Notre Dame does not invest in GE.
Perhaps Scott Malpass, Notre Dame’s eminently successful chief investment officer, should be put in charge of awards and honors.
In short, there is cause for dismay but not despair. The University's professed pro-life policy is severely compromised by its actions. Would it ever join an organization that promoted racial discrimination? Would it ever honor a person or company that did? Would it not leap into action if it learned that large numbers of students turned toward racial discrimination while at Notre Dame?
Still, the laudable efforts of a group of dedicated faculty, the University's clear statement of is opposition to embryonic stem cell research and its support of adult stem cell research, and the singular football video episode — a truly counter-cultural Notre Dame for a change — afford grounds for hope.
Finally, as we have noted, an upcoming crucial test of the depth of the Administration's commitment to the pro-life cause will be whether it forces Dr. David Solomon out as director of the Center for Ethics & Policy, a possibility described by Father Wilson Miscamble in the interview that we discussed in a recent bulletin. Under Dr. Solomon's leadership, the Center and the Fund for the Protection of Human Life have been the principal driving forces at Notre Dame for pro-life thought and action. Dr.Solomon was a leading critic of the honoring of President Obama. His dismissal would carry an obvious message to the a pro-life community already thoroughly disillusioned by the Obama episode.