Notre Dame’s commencement ceremonies may be overshadowed by pro-life demonstrations related to the University’s decision to not only invite Barack Obama as the commencement speaker, but also to grant him an honorary degree. As of 5.11.2009, over 300,000 signatures had been gathered in an online petition against the administrators’ decision. While I don’t think the school should ban him from speaking on campus, the commencement address of a Catholic institution is not an appropriate venue. Even if this were acceptable, there is no logical reason to award him an honorary degree. While inviting the current President to speak during his tenure may have become something of a school tradition, awarding degrees to men who disagree with the major tenants of the university is not.
Honorary degrees are supposed to be awarded to men and women who embody the values and traditions of the school. These are people University is claiming it would have been proud to have amongst the ranks of its alumni, but Notre Dame has a rich Catholic tradition that Mr. Obama neither cherishes nor even pretends to respect. Because the President is so out of touch with these traditions, fear is the only motive I can derive for the administration’s decision. This fear is not of the Obama administration itself, but the media backlash that could result if an academic institution did not appear adequately enthralled by the “historic” nature of the election.
Ironically, in their quest to preserve their public image, the Notre Dame administrators may have put it at far greater risk and tarnished their relationship with loyal alumni. The Wall Street Journal reports even the school’s Bishop D’Arcy has refused to attend “citing what he called Mr. Obama’s ‘longstanding unwillingness to hold human life as sacred.'”
Fortunately, the school may be saved from itself by Obama’s reluctance to appear before anything but a fawning crowd. Since he can’t screen the graduates as he did attendees at Camp Victory, I am unsure he will choose to attend. Then again, the pull of media attention and the false appearance of reaching across the aisle to conservative America, combined with undeserved recognition of his minimal accomplishments may be just enough to draw him away from “fixing” our country for the weekend.
You can view the petition at notredamescandal.com