By Genevieve Pollock
DEARBORN, Michigan, JUNE 2, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A Notre Dame alumni coalition is entering phase two in the program to replace the university’s leadership, using their pocketbooks as leverage.
David DiFranco, ’95 graduate and spokesman of ReplaceJenkins.com, told ZENIT that although the initiative materialized amid the public protest of the school’s decision to honor President Barack Obama at the May 17 commencement ceremony, the work is far from being over.
The coalition launched the national outreach effort in April appealing to alumni and benefactors to hold back donations until the university’s president, Father John Jenkins, is replaced.
“Our endeavor is entering a new phase,” he said. “We did not establish ourselves to prevent Obama from speaking” at the university’s commencement ceremony.
This event gave us a “rallying cry,” DiFranco said, but “the culminating point in our endeavor is still a long way off.”
The problem at Notre Dame, he explained, is that “something needs to change in the leadership.”
The coalition is calling for a new university head “who is committed to the authentic identity of Notre Dame, grounded in the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
The protest against Obama’s invitation to give the commencement address and receive an honorary law doctorate served to “wake people up,” the spokesman said, as many alumni did not realize the situation at the school.
The alumni are “feeling disenfranchised,” he said. They are surprised at the bad leadership of administration and faculty.
“Obama’s invitation to speak was not the worst part,” DiFranco explained. The defense made by university president Father John Jenkins of the decision “angered alumni even more.”
He added that there was also an outcry over the fact that during the commencement ceremony, many students showed support for Obama, shouting campaign slogans, which “shows that the students are not learning their catechesis.”
Over 80 bishops and more than 367,000 Catholics voiced disagreement with Father Jenkins, saying he disregarded the 2004 guidelines from the U.S. bishops that state: “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” with “awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”
This is a very “clear cut case,” DiFranco said. Obama is not just pro-choice, but is among a very small minority who actively defends abortion rights in every instance.
The spokesman asserted that the percentage of students standing against the decision should match the percentage that is Catholic.
The admissions office of the university estimates that 80%-85% of each incoming freshman class identifies themselves as Catholic.
DiFranco acknowledged that although most media attention focused on the fact that only 40 seniors out of some 2,900 boycotted the ceremony, there may have been many more who were against the university’s decision.
Now, he said, although the press dropped the story after commencement day, we are just beginning the second phase of the campaign, to “connect with Notre Dame individuals who have power to induce change.”
DiFranco affirmed that the project has been initially successful, with responses from every alumni era.
On graduation day, the coalition had confirmed over $15 million in donations withheld from the university.
Although the coalition has not released an updated number, the spokesman affirmed that the total number of donations “has swelled.”
The group is carefully sorting through and confirming other pledges, and DiFranco stated that there are still tens of millions of dollars to be authenticated.
The coalition will formally deliver its campaign results to the Notre Dame administration at a moment it deems “appropriate,” he said.
The alumnus concluded by affirming that there are glimmers of hope for Notre Dame, despite the need for some changes.
He reported that several faculty members contacted the coalition to express support, though requesting anonymity.
At Notre Dame, “there is a contingent with some strength,” DiFranco said, and with the right environment and situation, “you may see something positive coming out.”
— — —
On the Net:
Coalition Web site: http://www.replacejenkins.com/