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‘Progressive’ Notre Dame faculty rebuke president for denouncing NCAA’s North Carolina pull out

University of Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins has been rebuked by self-described “progressive” educators at the Catholic institution who took issue with his criticism of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s decision to remove all 2016-17 national championship events out of North Carolina.

The NCAA made the call due to a new state law in North Carolina that requires public restrooms be used by people according to their biological gender. Notre Dame is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and was impacted by the NCAA’s decision to punish North Carolina for the law, which some have called anti-LGBTQ.

Jenkins called out the association, saying they’re a sports program, not moral arbiters.

“It is not the role of the NCAA to employ the economic power it derives from member universities to attempt to influence the outcome of the legal process or change legislation,” Jenkins wrote in a late-September Wall Street Journal op-ed.

“The role of such associations is to foster athletic competition that is fair and serves the well-being of student-athletes,” Jenkins continued. “There is plenty of work for them to do in that sphere without assuming the role of spokesperson for their members on contentious political and social issues.”

A week after publication, Jenkins received public criticism from 48 members of a Notre Dame employee group called “The Progressive Faculty/Staff Alliance.”

In their open letter to Jenkins, published in the The Observer campus newspaper, the alliance wrote “we are disheartened that you objected to the NCAA’s decision and chose to make a public statement that privileges the rights and feelings of cisgender, heterosexual people over transgender and gay people.”

“ … We also find your comments about the NCAA’s decision and its role as a ‘moral arbiter’ deeply problematic and inconsistent with the values of our university. Certainly, any organization of whatever nature has the moral obligation to speak up and act in the face of discriminatory laws such as HB2.”

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Mary Celeste Kearney, a member of the alliance and director of the Gender Studies program at Notre Dame, took a lead role in writing the letter. She told The College Fix via email that “we felt that by having our letter published in The Observer and read widely within the ND community that we could help to facilitate a critical conversation on our campus about gender, ethics, social justice, and Catholicism among faculty, administrators, students, and staff.”

Kearney stated that Jenkins has responded to the alliance’s letter and has offered to meet with some of its members to discuss their concerns.

Forty-eight out of 274 faculty and staff members involved in the alliance signed the letter. While multiple non-signers informed The College Fix that they would have signed had they received a longer time period in which to respond to the appeal, one member who asked to remain anonymous declined to sign due to disagreement with its sentiments.

“I read Fr. Jenkin’s original statement as a simple statement that the NCAA should not be the body that decides moral issues on behalf of the member universities,” the professor told The College Fix. “I have to agree with that. I do not think that in his statement Fr. Jenkins was making any pronouncements about the gender issues themselves. I therefore declined to sign a letter that accused Fr. Jenkins of taking positions that I do not think he was really taking.”

Similarly, while many students applauded the alliance’s letter, sophomore Liam Stewart stood behind Jenkins in a written rebuttal to the alliance.

“Notre Dame, like all private religious institutions, has the legal right to implement policies that are consistent with its own values and beliefs. The efforts of an unelected, private sports organization to usurp this role should be considered a direct affront to the religious liberty of our nation’s universities,” Stewart wrote in an op-ed in The Observer.

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About the Author
Lauren Fox -- University of Notre Dame