More Cracks in the Golden Dome
The University of Notre Dame’s ongoing confusions


George Weigel

In 2001, the University of Notre Dame hired George O’Leary as its football coach: a position regarded by some alums, boosters, and board members as only slightly less significant than that held by the university’s president, and by others as of undoubtedly greater importance. Shortly after the hire, the Manchester Union Leader disclosed that O’Leary had engaged in some serious résumé padding, including claims for a master’s degree he had not earned from a university that did not exist. O’Leary’s tenure as head coach of the Fighting Irish ended three weeks after it began.

It now seems that, over the ensuing decade, Notre Dame didn’t learn much about due diligence, even as its leaders forgot a few more things about integrity and honesty.

Late in the spring term, Notre Dame announced that one of its alumnae, Roxanne Martino, a prominent Chicago investment manager, had been elected a member of the university’s board of trustees. Such a seemingly routine appointment — wealthy alum joins university board — would have drawn little notice at a less contentious moment in Catholic higher education. But by its 2009 decisions to make an unabashedly pro-abortion Barack Obama its commencement speaker and to honor him with an honorary doctor of laws degree, Notre Dame invited intense scrutiny by Catholics determined to hold the country’s flagship Catholic university to a standard of Catholic identity it seemed unwilling to maintain by itself. Thus, shortly after Ms. Martino joined the Notre Dame board, it came to light that she had been a longtime and significant contributor to Emily’s List, one of the nation’s premier pro-abortion lobbies.

Emily’s List does not mask its agenda behind a blizzard of euphemisms. Its website asks the visitor to “HELP US ELECT PRO-CHOICE DEMOCRATIC WOMEN.” The What We Do part of the site makes the organization’s goals quite clear: “We’re a full-service political team with a simple mission: to elect pro-choice Democratic women.” It would take a very dim observer of the contemporary political scene not to know what Emily’s List is all about. One might barely imagine that a Chicago donor who reflexively gives to the usual Democratic causes could write a check to Emily’s List under the impression that the organization was some sort of generic feminist lobby — although imagining a generic feminist lobby that is not pro-abortion takes even more, er, imagination.

Faced with the revelation that one of its new board members — one of those charged with guiding Notre Dame into the future — was in the habit of writing large checks to a pro-abortion lobby, the Notre Dame administration tried to wriggle out of the bind by claiming that Ms. Martino hadn’t realized that Emily’s List did what Emily’s List does. When that invited the obvious rejoinder that no one so unaware of elementary political reality had a claim to help guide a major university into the future, board chairman Richard Notebaert tried to save Ms. Martino, doubling down while clumsily changing the subject.

In an e-mail to the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn, a Notre Dame alumnus who was on the case, Notebaert harrumphed that the fact that Ms. Martino “erred in not knowing completely about two of the many organizations to which she makes contributions does not in any way diminish the exemplary way in which she has lived her life and faith.” Moreover, the chairman averred, this is precisely “the sort of person we want on our board”: someone who is “a Notre Dame graduate, loving parent, dedicated to national and international service, a highly regarded professional in her field, and committed to all Catholic teachings.” (Memo to Mr. Notebaert: If those are your criteria for Notre Dame board membership, your letter inviting an alumnus of Notre Dame who is a distinguished journalist, a former presidential speechwriter, and a loving husband and parent to join the Notre Dame board should be in the mail today; I’m sure Bill McGurn will consider the possibility carefully.)