Notre Dame president John Jenkins last week rescinded an offer he had made to meet with leaders of a coalition of student groups who are opposed to the selection of President Barack Obama as commencement speaker and recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree.
The opposition to the conferring of the degree in particular has been prompted by Obama’s pro-choice position on abortion and support for expanded stem cell research.
Rev. Jenkins, who had initially agreed to an April 20 meeting with the coalition, notified the group that its new set of preconditions and parameters for the scheduled meeting was unacceptable and that the “conditions for constructive dialogue simply do not exist.”
Specifically, the coalition of a dozen student groups was seeking promises from Jenkins that he would not permit any research involving human embryos or fetal tissue obtained through destructive techniques at the Indiana university, and that he would appoint a university ombudsman to promote pro-life policies.
The group, “ND Response,” also asked that Jenkins promote the airing of pro-life commercials during the fall telecasts of the “Fighting Irish” football games on NBC.
It also requested that he agree to lead Notre Dame students in the annual “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. and it urged him to take a more prominent role in the public promotion of pro-life issues as a way repairing the “damage inflicted on the Catholic identity of the University.”
Logistical issues also played a role in the decision of the administration to cancel the meeting, with Jenkins having specified that the meeting be limited to 25 students in a closed-door session. The coalition proposed that the meeting be open to a much larger number of students and that it be made accessible to the public via live video recording.
Despite the impasse, and signs of mounting protests around South Bend, student leaders have vowed to conduct their protests “prayerfully and respectfully” in the weeks leading up to the May 17 graduation.
In that vein, Notre Dame professor emeritus of law, Charles Rice, who has voiced strong opposition to the awarding of an honorary law degree to Obama, recently wrote in the student newspaper “The Observer” that “on-site demonstrations would be counter-productive.” He is urging that people instead gather at the campus grotto to say the rosary during the commencement.