academies of easy virtue
By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 06, 2006
Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins has issued a statement regarding his decision to permit performances of the Vagina Monologues. Here's what I take to be the fulcrum of his argument:
For these reasons, I am very determined that we not suppress speech on this campus. I am also determined that we never suppress or neglect the Gospel that inspired this University. As long as the Gospel message and the Catholic intellectual tradition are appropriately represented, we can welcome any serious debate on any thoughtful position here at Notre Dame.
The only exception I can imagine would come in the case of expression that is overt and insistent in its contempt for the values and sensibilities of this University, or of any of the diverse groups that form part of our community. This sort of expression is not at issue in the current debate, nor do I expect it to be an issue in the future.
Here's what Jenkins didn't say, but I wish he had:
Look, cut the claptrap. I've been around enough universities to know a serious intellectual assertion when I see one. The Vagina Monologues stunt is anti-discursive agit-prop. Any "arguments" it pretends to propose are freely accessible to any literate student with a library card. There's no book-burning going on. But to capitulate to the agit-prop by allowing the performance is to weaken the university's already weak resistance to secular partisan pressure.
Claims to academic freedom and liberty of speech do not apply. I do not say that they don't have value, merely that they are irrelevant to this controversy. Those who seek to stage the VM are keen not to vindicate freedom of speech but to advance a Leftist political agenda in matters of sexual morality. Were freedom of speech at issue, the agitators would be calling not for Ms. Ensler's opus but for public lectures by the Grand Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan and by -- what's his name? -- that crack-pot preacher from Kansas who always shows up at gay parades with the GOD HATES FAGS signs. Fred Phelps, that's the guy. Phelps and Enser are in every intellectual respect identical twins, though ideologically separated at birth, and anyone who suggests the contrary has, to put it charitably, been overly influenced by one or the other. If the faculty came to me and pleaded, "We need to hear Fred Phelps in order to justify our prestige as academics unafraid of repellent ideas!" I could respect their integrity. They would, moreover, demonstrate rare candor by acknowledging what opinions are least likely to find a hearing among their peers. But only a whore -- a whore terrified by the prospect of her patron's displeasure -- could state that the Vagina Monologues pose a serious challenge to conformism or fear. Regrettably, there is no shortage of harlotry at play in this controversy.
Suppose a group of ND students took it into their minds that their Second Amendment rights needed vindication; after all, no one can deny that these rights are severely abridged on our campus. Imagine that, in addition to sponsoring provocative lectures arguing for an unconstrained right to bear arms, the students initiated a Second To None Week in which they carried 12-gauge shotguns (unloaded, let's say) to and from class and the dining halls. Would this stunt provoke a public reaction? Yes. Would conformism and fear contribute to the reaction? Yes. Would we be rightly skeptical if the sponsors disavowed the intention to provoke and claimed it was purely an educational endeavor? Yes. Would the same faculty who rushed to the defense of the Vagina Monologues on grounds of academic freedom lend their vocal support to Second To None Week? I doubt it, folks. I've been around. I can recognize an academic harlot.
A free man, however, need not succumb to solicitation. I am exercising this freedom in refusing to permit the performance of the Vagina Monologues. In the same spirit, and for the same reasons, I am declining to award to Reverend Fred Phelps the Theodore Hesburgh Chair of Social Ethics in the Notre Dame Department of Theology. I do not believe the immortal soul of any student, any staff member, or any professor will be imperilled by my thus inconveniencing their access to the thought of Ensler and Phelps. I believe the academy itself will be but slightly wounded by this curtailment of liberty. I believe God will forgive me if I have not judged aright.
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