Published April 16, 2009
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Critics of the University of Notre Dame's commencement invitation to President Obama are calling for the ouster of the university's president, using a social networking site to draw support.
A Web site launched Thursday asks Notre Dame alumni and financial supporters to join the Facebook group "ReplaceJenkins" and to sign a petition pledging to withhold contributions until the university's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, is replaced "with someone who will be more loyal to the teaching of the Catholic Church."
The site, www.replacejenkins.com, says it is a nonpartisan group of Notre Dame graduates and donors who support academic freedom. An e-mail from The Associated Press seeking further information was not immediately returned.
The online effort is the latest protest of Notre Dame's invitation to have Obama deliver the May 17 commencement address and receive an honorary degree. At least 33 bishops have opposed the decision because of Obama's support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research, and than 400 people protested at Notre Dame on Palm Sunday.
Jenkins has said he disagrees with Obama's abortion and stem-cell positions but that it is important to have a dialogue.
The ReplaceJenkins group questioned whether that was possible.
"Will President Obama be giving a commencement address or will he be answering questions about his positions on life-related issues? Will he be receiving an honorary degree or will he be seeking to understand Church teaching? Clearly, a commencement setting is not one of dialogue," it wrote.
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said Thursday the school knew from the beginning that the invitation would draw supporters and opponents.
"There have been both. We respect all points of view," he said.
Jenkins, 55, a Notre Dame graduate, has weathered criticism before. In 2006, he declined to ban a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" on campus, saying universities should be places where debate is promoted. The school's trustees later passed a resolution expressing confidence in Jenkins.
Jenkins is in his fourth year as president. The school's board of trustees elects presidents for five-year terms. His predecessor, the Rev. Edward A. Malloy, served 18 years as president. Before that, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh served 35 years as president.
Obama will be the ninth U.S. president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame.