Six weeks ago, the University of Notre Dame upended its self-professed tradition by declining to extend an invitation to the new US president at their May commencement. Rather than deal with the protests and media attention of having Donald Trump speak, university president Fr. John Jenkins opted instead to invite Vice President Mike Pence, as Fr. Jenkins didn’t “want the surrounding controversy to distract from the central purpose of commencement.” Fr. Jenkins avoided mentioning Trump at all in his statement, instead hailing Pence as an obviously appropriate choice for the school’s 175th anniversary:
It is fitting that in the 175th year of our founding on Indiana soil that Notre Dame recognize a native son who served our state and now the nation with quiet earnestness, moral conviction and a dedication to the common good characteristic of true statesmen. With his own brand of reserved dignity, Mike Pence instilled confidence on the state level then, and on the world stage now. We are proud to welcome him to represent the new administration.
How’s that working out for Fr. Jenkins? Every bit as well as you’d expect after a pre-emptive heckler’s veto:
Notre Dame students protesting VP Pence as this year's commencement speaker because it makes them "feel unsafe" pic.twitter.com/W7mJoFp6dV
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) April 12, 2017
Vice President Mike Pence’s scheduled commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame has prompted a protest by senior students who say that Pence’s presence on campus will make them “feel unsafe.”
Students Immane Mondane and Jourdyhn Williams have started a #NotMyCommencementSpeaker campaign against Pence’s May 21 address. …
In addition to the #NotMyCommencementSpeaker campaign, a number of student groups have spoken out against the invitation of Pence, including the Diversity Council and the College Democrats, according to Campus Reform.
The protest organizers seem to disagree with Fr. Jenkins on Pence’s moral standing:
“For me personally, [Pence] represents the larger Trump administration,” Mondane said. “ … his administration represents something, and for many people on our campus, it makes them feel unsafe to have someone who openly is offensive but also demeaning of their humanity and of their life and of their identity.” …
The selection of Pence as graduation speaker also violates the University’s Catholic mission, Williams said.
“I feel that is offensive to such a large population here at Notre Dame, and I also believe it goes against certain Catholic Social Teaching, which is something the University likes to broadcast that it stands behind, but it picks and chooses when it wants to stand behind them,” she said.
There’s nothing wrong with protests in general, of course, as long as they obey the law — and this one certainly appears to respect those boundaries. However, the constant refrain of protesting because opposing political views makes someone “feel unsafe” is laughable on its face, and (to borrow a phrase from protesters in my day) evidence of a crypto-fascist approach to political discourse.
If a speech by Mike Pence truly makes you feel unsafe rather than just annoyed by hearing political opposition to your own positions, then you should really consider a lifetime of crayons rather than pencils, and padded rooms to boot. The obvious solution to that situation is.. don’t attend the speech. If one argues that the public square and political discourse should be limited to each individual’s perception of “safety,” then they’re arguing against all political discourse — and the very protests they are carrying out now.
Apparently, Notre Dame has stopped teaching critical thought. Or preparing students for the real world, where the unsafe feelz are not anyone else’s problem.
This was entirely predictable, of course. As I wrote at the time, the problem with a heckler’s veto is that it breeds more contempt and more attempts to impose them. Fr. Jenkins allowed himself to get pushed out of the school’s traditions by the implied threat of protests, and by doing so he’s encouraged more protests. He should have stuck to the school’s tradition, or dumped it altogether by ending the practice of having any outside speaker at commencements, and let the students have one last day in the cocoon.