The Academic Freedom Controversy at Notre Dame
The Academic Freedom Controversy at Notre Dame

The Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors expresses its support for University of Notre Dame President the Rev. John Jenkins in standing by the university's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak at its May 17 commencement. We are concerned by the efforts of external groups to prevent President Obama or any other invited guest from speaking on campus.

For almost a hundred years, the AAUP has defined for colleges and universities the meaning of academic freedom through its policy statements and procedural guidelines. We hold that the freedom of faculty and other members of the campus community to conduct research, publish, and exchange ideas, especially highly controversial ones, without outside interference or censorship is the lifeblood of the university and is essential to the production and dissemination of knowledge. The fact that American universities have such an enviable world-wide reputation is in no small part due to our practice of academic freedom.

While the AAUP recognizes that religious colleges and universities have the right to propagate their special faith, these institutions must also protect and model free inquiry and open dialogue. Notre Dame's embodiment of these values has helped earn it a reputation as one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States. In 1967, Notre Dame President the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh and other leaders of Catholic colleges and universities proclaimed in the Land O'Lakes statement that the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities.˛

But does this freedom apply to outside speakers? According to the AAUP's 2007 statement on the subject: łAs part of their educational mission, colleges and universities provide a forum for a wide variety of speakers. There can be no more appropriate site for the discussion of controversial ideas and issues than a college or university campus. . . . Invitations made to outside speakers by students or faculty do not imply approval or endorsement by the institution of the views expressed by the speaker.˛ Notre Dame has a worthy tradition of inviting new presidents to speak at commencement even though none agree with all aspects of Catholic dogma. To disinvite a commencement speaker over public policy disagreements is an anathema to open discourse.

AAUP affirms the right of those who disagree with a speaker to protest. But prohibiting or censoring a controversial speaker is a violation of the free exchange of ideas. For that reason we support Notre Dame's defense of academic freedom.

Richard Schneirov
President, Indiana Conference of the AAUP

Cary Nelson
President, AAUP