Notre Dame Leaders Must Stand up Against Hate.
We stand with our Notre Dame colleagues who have recently endured vitriolic verbal attacks and threats of violence for exercising their academic freedom in research and writing related to reproductive health access and abortion bans. Other colleagues have received hate mail for research and public engagement on racial inequality and exclusion, and for research on LGBTQI+ experiences. Many of these attacks are cloaked in religious language and themes in clear contradiction to the tradition and theology of the Catholic Church. Disturbingly, some threatening messages have come from ND parents and alumni, in direct response to reportage and published letters from university-connected entities that believe this research runs counter to the Catholic mission. These acts of violence, including verbal and written harassment, are outrageous, unacceptable, and dangerous for our entire community.
We recognize and value that the Notre Dame community includes people with diverging and nuanced views on these issues. We welcome research-informed debate and moral discernment. A university flourishes when it cultivates the dialogue of ideas, not personal attacks. Regardless of our individual positioning, the Notre Dame community must unite to denounce these kinds of violent, threatening attacks. This vitriol – accompanied by silence from the administration – has a chilling effect on academic freedom. It suppresses research, teaching, and public engagement on difficult and complex topics that are essential for promoting inclusion, human dignity, and the common good. Many of our colleagues have expressed reluctance to publicize their research in this climate. This undermines the fundamental mission of a university to create knowledge, reduces our ability to recruit and retain top-ranked faculty and students, and degrades Notre Dame in the public spotlight. Our faculty can no longer claim with confidence that Notre Dame is a safe place to work. Notre Dame is diminished and must be restored.
University President John Jenkins has spoken in the past about the importance of engaging in civil discourse. Now, more than ever, we need him and other Notre Dame leaders to ensure a culture of civility by publicly condemning the actions of those who so badly misunderstand the mission of a great Catholic university. We call on Father Jenkins and the administration to take the following actions immediately:
1) Issue a public statement strongly condemning the actions of those engaging in uncivil discourse and who direct venomous and violent messages toward Notre Dame faculty, students, or administrators. We deserve better.
2) In a direct communication to ND faculty, students, alumni, and parents, make crystal clear that when members of the Notre Dame community contribute directly or indirectly to this hostile climate, their actions bring disgrace, rather than glory, to our great university.
3) Directly inform any individuals in the Notre Dame community who engage in threatening, harassing or hate-filled speech or action that they are no longer welcome on campus or at university events. This is not just a symbolic deterrent, but also a means of protecting the physical safety of colleagues and students.
4) Defend the safety of our colleagues by devoting additional resources for ND Police and legal counsel to respond to specific instances of online or offline harassment or threats toward members of our community.
5) Reaffirm the University’s policy of neutrality with regard to scholarship and research-informed public commentary produced by Notre Dame faculty, including op-eds. When University leaders denounce or distance themselves from faculty work, the administration makes these faculty vulnerable to vitriolic attacks, particularly in today’s polarized climate.
What we have witnessed at Notre Dame reflects the broader political environment, where higher education, civic norms, and democratic values are under attack. Notre Dame is uniquely positioned to model for the nation how to work against these threats by establishing a safe environment in which the Notre Dame community can work together in the pursuit of knowledge and in service to society. We call on others to join us in this call against hate and incivility aimed at our campus.
The Department of Sociology