Notre Dame's President Faces an Angry Campus After Getting the Coronavirus
Rev. John Jenkins, President of the Center at Notre Dame University, attends a reception in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington for Supreme Court Candidate Amy Coney Barrett on September 26, 2020. (Doug Mills / New York Times)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - When principals considered getting the students back on campus, no one brought the stronger reopening charge than the president of Notre Dame University.
Rev. John I. Jenkins, the president of the university and a 66-year-old Catholic priest with a degree in Philosophy and Divinity, was one of the first to invite students to dormitory life, college sports, and face-to-face teaching in a New York Times noted in May that the college has a moral obligation not to be crippled by fear. He also seemed humble about the challenge: forgetting the rules of social distancing when posing for pictures with students returning to campus in August, he publicly apologized.
But all the humility in the world might not have saved Jenkins from the storm of protest he now faces when he talks about the latest South Bend news: Not only did he break his own health rules - he was with one last month Reception in the White House without mask appeared Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Supreme Court candidate and former professor at Notre Dame Law School - is also infected with the coronavirus herself.
Students have asked for his resignation, angry at his hypocrisy and the rising tide of infections on campus. Others reported him to a coronavirus hotline for violating his own mask mandate. The student newspaper called the matter "embarrassing" in an editorial. And the faculty senate stopped a vote briefly on Tuesday evening to consider a vote of no confidence in its leadership.
"I've never seen people so outraged in my entire career and I've been here since 2001," said Eileen Hunt Botting, professor of political science.
Neither Jenkins nor Head Boy Paul Browne responded to requests for comment.
"I regret my mistake in not wearing a mask during the ceremony and shaking hands with a number of people in the rose garden," said the school president in a statement posted on the Notre Dame website last week. "I failed to lead by example when I asked everyone else in the Notre Dame community to do so."
In a follow-up email to students and faculty on Friday announcing that he tested positive for the virus, Jenkins and the school's communications staff wrote that he had been tested after learning that “a colleague with whom he had regular contact” had Virus.
In a Tuesday evening Zoom session, after heated debates, the Faculty's Senate voted by 21-20 votes to postpone the proposed no-confidence vote while collecting more feedback. A second motion to praise the absent president was also postponed by an overwhelming majority.
Faculty comments distributed at the meeting included empathy for Jenkins, who is certainly not the first college president to get the virus.
"Father Jenkins is already sick," wrote one faculty member. "That's enough punishment."
But many others felt resentful that he was visiting Washington when their own travel was banned.
"I haven't seen my aging parents in over a year," said a faculty member. Others said they canceled research trips and vacations. The birth of a first grandson had been missed.
In an interview, Hunt Botting, who is not a member of the faculty Senate, said Jenkins not only failed to practice what he preached but also opened Notre Dame's reputation for political exploitation by both nominating President Donald Trump as well as his nomination advocated resistance to face masks.
"This not only challenges his ability to obey rules that he has imposed on faculties, staff and students, but also his ability to avoid openly politicized events like the one in the Rose Garden," she said.
A petition calling for Jenkins' resignation, signed by more than 200 students, was rejected by the student government last week. But Ashton Weber, a 20-year-old business major who wrote the petition, said she plans to revive it and spread it among faculties, staff and parents.
"I acknowledge that it is a great honor to have nominated a professor and an alumna for the highest court in the United States, but there is a total double standard," Weber said. "Students were fired for these kinds of things."
Around 770 Notre Dame students on campus with 12,700 students tested positive for the virus this semester, according to the campus dashboard. A federal government internal report last month showed that the St. Joseph County area is a major coronavirus hotspot and cited the return of Notre Dame students as a possible source of infection in the community.
Notre Dame required students returning to campus to be tested for coronavirus before the start of the semester in early August and then to volunteer with faculty and staff for random surveillance tests, regardless of symptoms. The athletes were also regularly tested under the NCAA rules. Masks were required indoors and outdoors on campus.
However, the university's health protocols fell short of the rigorous testing, tracking, and isolation standards recommended by experts. Many students also found the rules imposed by Notre Dame unsustainable. Cases increased so much in mid-August that the school switched to distance learning for two weeks, ordered students to stay in their homes, and threatened to send violations home.
Last month, dozens of players were infected or quarantined following a soccer team outbreak, and Notre Dame was told to postpone a game scheduled for September 26 on the day Jenkins went to the White House.
In his message last week, Jenkins, who was criticized by Conservatives in 2009 for inviting President Barack Obama to deliver the address, said he felt compelled to “support a fellow faculty member and alumna of Notre Dame, that of academics and academics fellow judges who are adored by their students and valued by their friends are very respected. "
When he got to the White House, Jenkins said he was given a nasal swab test with quick results and was instructed to wait in a mask for negative test results to clear him. From there, he was escorted to the rose garden, where administrators, Trump supporters, and Barrett's friends gathered to cheer for their nomination.
Photos show Jenkins between Franklin Graham, the evangelical leader, and G. Marcus Cole, dean of Notre Dame Law School. Nobody around her wears a mask except Cole. After the event in the rose garden, Jenkins attended a reception in the diplomatic reception room of the White House, where photos also show that he was not wearing a mask.
Since then, a growing list of attendees has confirmed they tested positive for the virus, including Trump. the first lady, Melania Trump; Sens. Mike Lee from Utah and Thom Tillis from North Carolina; Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor; Kellyanne Conway, a former adviser to the President; and Greg Laurie, a pastor at the California megachurch.
Cole didn't respond to a request for comment. At least 10 members of the Notre Dame faculty besides Jenkins attended the event, and everyone but him has had negative coronavirus results on multiple occasions since returning to South Bend, according to two members of the delegation, citing the backlash on the Campus had asked not to use their names.
The decision not to wear a mask was not based on politics, but rather on a desire to politely meddle, as a guest at a cocktail party might be able to take off a tie if he realizes everyone else is dressed in business casual. And they regret it.
"Given the reactions and outreach and the impact on the entire university," said one faculty member, "I wish things had turned out differently."
On Tuesday, as the campus counted down to this weekend's soccer game with the state of Florida - whose own president tested positive for the virus - masks were ubiquitous. Outside the library, under the famous and towering mural of Jesus Christ, surrounded by apostles and scholars, jugs of hand sanitizer and socially distant Adirondack chairs stood on the lawn.
Maggie Horan, 21, and Clarissa Younkle, 22, said the school's pandemic restrictions had ruined their plans for the spring and fall break.
"You have strongly advised against leaving St. Joseph County for any reason except for a sick or dying relative," said Horan, an international economist and political scientist from Los Gatos, California.
Younkle, a biochemistry major from Green Bay, Wisconsin, found that under campus rules, a single negative rapid test is not enough to get an exposed student out of isolation. But Jenkins, she said, "used that as a justification to go to this event and was against the guidelines we adhere to - it's not fair."
Colin Whitehead, 25, a graduate theology student from Walled Lake, Michigan, said when his brother got married that summer, he felt he should wear a mask even during the wedding photos.
"But it was just so hard to keep it going when nobody was wearing one," he said.
Did he approve of Jenkins' behavior?
"Probably not," he said. "But I can really empathize with him."
This article originally appeared in the New York Times.
© 2020 The New York Times Company
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