Paul Mirengoff has the story on Mary Ann Glendon's decision to turn down the prestigious Laetare Medal that she was to receive at Notre Dame's commencement this year:
First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops' express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions "should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" and that such persons "should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution's freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.
I see that an effort has arisen for Notre Dame alumni who want to withhold contributions from the Notre Dame general fund as a result of the Obama invitation. Importantly for Domers, the website stresses:
Alumni or other supporters who would like to withhold their donations from Notre Dame's General Fund to express their feelings to the University are still encouraged to support campus pro-life organizations. These contributions will NOT go to Notre Dame's General Fund, but will go directly to these worthy organizations. According Notre Dame's website, these donations ARE credited to alumni's eligibility for the football lottery.
There's got to be a joke in there about the Notre Dame football teaming showing some life, but I'll let you supply your own joke.
Notre Dame, obviously, is a mission-oriented school. And there is a clear difference between inviting a speaker to campus to give a speech and inviting a speaker to campus to be honored with an honorary degree and given a high-profile speaking platform before a captive audience. If Obama were merely being invited to speak at Notre Dame by a student group or a faculty member as part of an academic dialogue or conference, then the reaction would be wholly out of line. But those, such as Professor Glendon, who see the current invite as improper seem to me to be on completely sound ground.
This distinction between a mission-oriented university honoring a man whose views and actions have supported what the university considers to be the profoundest moral evils and giving him an honored platform from which to speak to a captive audience strikes me as the confusion in Jeff Immelt's recent contribution on the subject. Obviously there is some merit in Immelt's point that Notre Dame should feel honored to have the President speak at the university. And that should be enough to carry the day at most any university in America. But Obama's actions during his time as state legislator, Senator, President, and in his judicial appointments have also all advanced the cause of what the Catholic Church sees as nothing less than the most profound evil. Immelt seems to believe that this is just another speech in just another forum at just another university by just another person. In fact, it is none of the above. Immelt's argument that Notre Dame should feel lucky to have Obama just misses the point.
And I will confess that I burst out laughing when Immelt (my colleague on the Dartmouth Board on the rare occasions where he has actually shown up for meetings) writes, "Part of growing as a leader is to open the doors to divergent opinions, to let critics into the boardroom, and to engage diverse viewpoints and perceptions." Do as I say, Notre Dame, not as I do.