Freedom of Expression at Notre Dame
We live, as many have observed, in a polarized time, when norms of civility are regularly flouted and personal attacks, toxic rhetoric and incendiary speech often crowd out serious, reasoned discussion. We witness this almost daily in national forums and in our local communities. Regrettably, we occasionally see these tendencies manifested in our Notre Dame community. It is perhaps timely to remind ourselves of the ideals we espouse and the community we strive to be.
Because Notre Dame is a university committed to the pursuit of truth through teaching, learning, inquiry and dialogue, we are committed fully to the academic freedom of scholars to research and publish the results of their research and to teach in accord with their obligations and training. For the same reason, we are committed to students learning in accord with their obligations, vision and interests. Moreover, scholars and students in our community have the freedom to express their views on any matter.
We recognize that sometimes the views expressed may be disagreeable to others, or even make some uncomfortable. Some of the views expressed may not accord with principles of Catholic teaching or the values of the University. Leaders of the University also have the right, for the sake of clarity, to state the institution’s principles and values, while they recognize that some members of our community may not share them and honor the right of those members to freely express their views.
The right of free expression does not, of course, extend to speech that threatens violence or constitutes harassment against an individual or a group. Such expressions violate University policies and will not be tolerated. If you are ever the subject of such threats or harassment at Notre Dame, you should contact the Notre Dame Police Department at 574-631-5555. You can also report concerns through the integrity line or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Other reporting options can be found on the President’s Office website. We are committed to taking all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of members of our community.
Distinct from threats and harassment are remarks that attack a dialogical opponent personally and show contempt. Such language seeks to vilify, rather than counter arguments; it tries to vanquish an opponent, rather than illumine the truth. Although such remarks do not foster dialogue in pursuit of truth, we do not, because of our commitment to freedom of expression, prohibit them or exclude those who make them. They are, however, inimical to the values of Notre Dame and the community we strive to be. I want to emphasize this point: Those who engage in such rhetoric do not reflect the values of Notre Dame, regardless of the view they seek to advance.
Notre Dame’s commitment to freedom of expression aligns with the justly celebrated principles of the University of Chicago. At Notre Dame, however, our mission calls us to do more. We should strive to combine a commitment to inquiry and dialogue in pursuit of truth with a commitment to show respect and charity toward those with whom we disagree. The most effective way to realize this ideal is not by silencing or excluding those who fail to live up to it, but by showing such respect in our own interactions and by calling others to do the same.
To the extent we can combine the passionate pursuit of truth through inquiry and dialogue with respect toward those with whom we disagree, we will be a community animated by the love of truth we seek and charity toward the colleagues and students who are companions in this search. We can then provide a model of vigorous but respectful dialogue for a society deeply in need of one.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
February 20, 2023