A 1991 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, my goal in posting is to critique the disturbing changes in governance at Notre Dame since the Vietnam War era.  I don’t mean to offer a chronicle by any stretch but simply to reflect on key changes as a way to explain the arrogant, amoral, corporate, legalistic leadership style of the current, Jenkins administration.

The casual fan or alumnus might ask whether the school is really in crisis – to which I would reply it is.

The same observer might also wonder if it wasn’t always as it is now:  it was not.  Under the Vietnam era Hesburgh administration, the school claimed a definitive moral autonomy with regard to the war, civil rights and other issues and made no apologies.  Its leadership style was more human, less institutional.

These changes represent a parallel trend among American universities and so takeaways gleaned here can be generalized to other schools and institutions.

The deaths of two students in the Notre Dame community in 2010 – Lizzy Seeberg and Declan Sullivan – and the university response in both cases catalyzed my desire to understand the history of my institution better.  After some study, I drew uncomfortable conclusions that some of the reasons for Lizzy and Declan’s tragic fates are traceable in their lineage to the governance shifts at the university since Vietnam, notably as a reaction against the genuine moral stature of the school at that time.

That’s a mouthful.  But, in short, hopefully this thought exercise will help caring and intelligent people begin to understand present day manifestations of these long-term governance changes.

I chose the football program as backdrop because it speaks to a wide range of audiences, and because it is utilized as a pressure point to massage public opinion.

Throughout my postings, I explore the use of language as an inflection point.  My hope is that readers will grow more sensitive to unstated linguistic guideposts in our public life, decipher these more readily, and hold major institutions like Notre Dame and our systems of government more accountable.

I believe most consumers of mass media are unaware of the extent to which their frames of reference are pre-determined by language, and that this inhibits a free range of motion of public thought, and places *safe* boundaries around policy discussion.

One example of this idea  — not in the football realm but illustrative nonetheless — was the so-called Fiscal Cliff of early 2013.

Within the media echo chamber, we were presented with but a single frame of reference for this misnomer.  Though Fox, CNN and even John Stewart, for example, interpreted the policy debate differently, all referenced it as the Fiscal Cliff.

They were in effect trapped within the language of their source (e.g. Washington DC) and they took the readers/viewers down the gopher hole with them.

In actuality, given the Monetary Mountain we stand atop (note my metaphor consistency, a linguistic imperative if we are to communicate truthfully), our cliff was more like a hop, skip or a jump.  The size of the *cliff* was measured in puny billions while the monetary policy stimulus hulking below in trillions.  The phraseology which white washes our gray matter is therefore unfitting and meant simply to rivet our attention long enough to frame the desired outcomes.

So just remember:  frame of reference, frame of reference, frame of reference.

Finally, in addition to challenging conventional views of media, sport, and the academy, perhaps I’ll save readers the time of wading through the difficult but worthwhile material of my philosophical sources — thinkers like CS Lewis, George Orwell aka Eric Arthur Blair, Daniel Boorstein, Leo Tolstoy, Noam Chomsky, Fr. Ted Hesburgh, Fr. Bill Miscamble, Professor David Solomon, Patrick Deneen, and many others.  I admittedly have much more I could learn in applying some of these ideas, and so along the way another goal is to learn from others with different perspectives and greater understanding than my own.

Thank you for visiting.

-September 5, 2011, Atlanta.

1 Response to Background

  1. Mike, I am pretty sure you would be interested in Sycamore Trust (, to which Fr. Bill Miscamble dedicated his book “For Notre Dame:The Battle for the Heart and Soul of a University.” Take a look at our website, which has an archive of our bulletins, and here’s our most recent bulletin of a few days ago: We covered Cathy Black some years back because she was a voluble supporter of The Vagina Monologues. You’ll recall the start that Fr. Jenkins made in marching up and down the hill when he reversed course and approved the VM under faculty pressure. I’d certainly like to have you on our mailing list and in our company of concerned alumni. Get in touch with me if you’re interested: Bill Dempsey

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