Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No to Notre Dame? The Politics of University Awards

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, has declined an award from Notre Dame to protest Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama to speak at commencement.
Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and prominent Roman Catholic conservative who served as ambassador to the Vatican under President George W. Bush, today declined a prestigious medal from the University of Notre Dame in protest of its decision to invite President Obama speak at its commencement.
One supposes any person has the ethical right, and perhaps the obligation, to disavow an association with another person as a matter of conscience. Still, Glendon's refusal seems particularly churlish given her association with the Bush regime, and the fact that although her gesture will not silence President Obama, it signifies that it would if it could. That act of silencing, though impotent, confers a tone that I cannot entirely fathom, though surely my resistance to it is colored by my agreeing more with the President than with the ambassador.

Lots of presidents have spoken at Notre Dame. If their speaking could take place only on the premise that they were doctrinally pure, that would render presidential rhetoric presumptively a captive -- it would make speech, or at least genuinely rhetorical speech, meaningless.

Or maybe I am just resisting an insult to a President whom I admire. One still remembers the sense of moral outrage, depending on your point of view, over writers and artists who accepted or declined invitations to the Lyndon B. Johnson White House in the years of the Vietnam War. Nuances were not observed.

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