University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins begins his May 26 op-ed in the New York Times explaining his decision to reopen the campus this fall in the age of Covid-19 by explaining why “science can inform our deliberations, but it cannot provide the answer.”
Jenkins spells out the safety precautions the venerable university will take to protect the campus community, but notes a university’s goals are not solely to protect health; they are also to educate “body, mind and spirit — and we believe that residential life and personal interactions with faculty members and among students are critical to such an education.”
If the campus stayed closed until a vaccine was developed, Jenkins wrote, “we would risk failing to provide the next generation of leaders the education they need and to do the research and scholarship so valuable to our society. How ought these competing risks be weighed? No science, simply as science, can answer that question. It is a moral question in which principles to which we are committed are in tension.”
Rev. Jenkins continued:
We are in our society regularly willing to take on ourselves or impose on others risks — even lethal risks — for the good of society. We send off young men and women to war to defend the security of our nation knowing that many will not return. We applaud medical professionals who risk their health to provide care to the sick and suffering. We each accept the risk of a fatal traffic accident when we get in our car. …
In our classical, humanistic educations, both Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and I came across the texts of Aristotle, who defined courage not as simple fearlessness, but as the mean between a rashness that is heedless of danger and a timidity that is paralyzed by it. To possess the virtue of courage is to be able to choose the proper mean between these extremes — to know what risks are worth taking, and why.
Perhaps what we most need now, alongside science, is that kind of courage and the practical wisdom it requires. Notre Dame’s recent announcement about reopening is the attempt to find the courageous mean as we face the threat of the virus and seek to continue our mission of education and inquiry.
Read the full piece here.
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