Friday, February 22, 2008

Basically the antithesis of my post from yesterday

A UNC biology professor has sparked controversy after telling his embryology class last week that fetuses with Down syndrome should be aborted.

During a lecture, Albert Harris said: "In my opinion, the moral thing for older mothers to do is to have amniocentesis, as soon during pregnancy as is safe for the fetus, test whether placental cells have a third chromosome number 21, and abort the fetus if it does. The brain is the last organ to become functional."

Several students said they were offended by Harris' remarks and don't think a professor should express such opinions in a class.

"I was in disbelief," said senior Lara Frame, who has a brother with Down syndrome. "I've never run across anyone who would say that to another individual, much less a class."

But some of the about 140 students in the class said the remarks weren't out of line.

"I thought it was perfectly justified," senior Scott Jones said. "I actually want to hear these opinions and form my own judgments about them. I think it's a matter of freedom of speech in education."

A UNC survey earlier this year showed that an overwhelming majority of students think their classroom environments allow for diverse expression of ideas.

Harris said his lecture was about frequency of birth defects, including Down syndrome, in mothers older than 40. He said abortion is the moral solution for a situation with a high rate of severe birth defects that can lead to death.

Forty to 50 percent of children with Down syndrome develop congenital heart defects and are 15 to 20 times more likely to develop leukemia than the general population, according to the Association for Children with Down Syndrome.

"It's this terrible decision," Harris said. "Ninety percent of people in this position have an abortion."

But Frame said the decision often stems from misconceptions about people with Down syndrome.

"This population can lead a fairly normal life," she said. Harris said he hoped his comments would spark a class discussion on the issue.

"I believe that if I'm going to expect students to express their opinions, I have to express mine," he said. "This can't help being partly an opinions class."

But some students said he didn't pause for discussion after making the statement, and Frame said biology classes should focus on facts. "They're not based on opinions."

Joseph Kieber, associate chairman of the Department of Biology, said he thinks professors should share their opinions but only under certain circumstances.

"It's a complicated issue," he said. "It comes down to whether it's relevant to the class."

Harris said that because many of his students are pre-med, some of them likely will have to make decisions on the subject.

"These are absolute questions they're going to face," he said.

And abortion is one of several options parents in the situation can consider. Another possibility is adoption, some noted.

"There is a long waitlist for people wanting to adopt children with Down syndrome," said senior Sarah Truluck, a member of the UNC Campus Y group Best Buddies, which sponsors activities such as talent shows for adults who have disabilities.

Harris said he would not choose abortion if faced with the decision himself.

"I was almost in that position, and we would have kept the baby," he said.

"We didn't have any abortions in my family."

Ah, Fiscal Responsibility

Beautiful, bankrupt Vallejo, CA

So Vallejo. CA is going bankrupt. Overspending means the Bay Area enclave is going to run out of money in April; the fiscal year ends in June. Vallejo will be the first California city to declare bankruptcy. Ever.

Less than 500 American cities have ever claimed bankruptcy since the Feds first allowed it during the Depression. In fairness, the OC went bankrupt in 1994, but no one is really surprised or feels bad about Laguna Hills having to wait more than a day to get their pot holes fixed.

Basically, everything that is wrong with America.

Vallejo is a microcosm of what the entire United States is going to face in the coming decades. Spending that out paces taxes. We all know the Democratic answer is to raise taxes. We all know the Republican answer is to ignore it. Neither of these approaches is adequate or fair. What it will take is a rethinking of current policies.

Attrition is a polite way to reduce spending. Yet when active workers are forced into massive amounts of overtime because there are not enough employees at government agencies, then attrition has gone too far. Likewise, when public employees can bargain for ridiculous pension plans (I mean 95% of the average of their three highest paid years and such) it is the public that is being jammed. The perpetual myth that increasing spending will improve schools is also hurting us. Our education system is not significantly better now than it was 30 years ago, while salaries (particularly for administrators) are significantly higher. By no means do I intend insult teachers, but I take issue with the way that teachers' unions have hijacked the system. Charters, in every district in the nation, are a step in the right direction. But we will never have the best possible system until there is free mobility for teachers and students.Lastly, have you ever been to a government agency? The DMV? The Post Office? The Registrar of Voters? Do any of these agencies strike you as particularly efficient? Are you satisfied that seven of the top ten recipients of earmarks in the House are Democrats, who "swept into Congress" on a message of cleaning up Washington? I'm not. I'm tired of rhetoric and "change" and "hope" and "experience" and Good 'ol boys. Someone needs to sit down, make a commitment and do something about the fact that we cannot support our spending practices and we cannot cripple our down trodden economy with 70s era taxes. Cuts will be made. We should start with streamlining government, then eliminating subsidies, then looking at entitlements.

Tighten that belt America. Or we are all going to end up like Vallejo.

Murtha - $176 million in earmarks, Kerry - do they teach about Genghis Kahn at Boston College?

On a Slightly DIfferent Note: The Back Up

Finally you can practice your Second Amendment rights from the comfort of your own bed! It's the perfect gift for that friend who lives south of campus.

"Many customers are buying one for each side of the bed."

God Bless America.

Hi, Neighbor!

As far as anniversaries go, this seems to be a big year. The Smurfs turned 50, Legos had a milemarker, and now it is time to remember another childhood classic. 40 years ago from last Tuesday (so four days ago) was the first airing of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." It is hard to believe that his show has ended since in some ways it epitomized an era of American childhood. It will be hard to imagine the children of this generation growing up without The Land of Makebelieve or King Friday. In searching for this video on youtube, I watched many snippets of episodes that all brought back fond memories. And now, as a frazzled adult, I found it soothing to hear him tell me it would be all right after all. I hope you enjoy these. I did.

What do you remember the best? I particularly remember when he took us to a factory that made jeans, the crayon factory one, and the short series about Josephine the Shortnecked Giraffe.

A tribute to Mr. Rogers:

A rare interview:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bengal Bouts 2008: The Real Fighting Irish

Working out on the heavy bag in the boxing room of the JACC.

Doing some mitts with a coach

Law School Prof. Charles Rice times a sparring match

On Monday Notre Dame's 78th Annual Bengal Bouts begins. For those of you non-domers, the Bengal Bouts is an intramural boxing tournament held by the Boxing Club each year which benefits the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. This year's tournament is the largest ever with over 230 boxers competing in about 12 different weight classes. Last year the bouts raised over $100,000.

I'm proud to be a part of the Bouts again this year after a sabbatical last season when I was abroad. I will be fighting in the 170 lb. division, doing my best to carry on the Rover's proud pugilistic tradition started by former EIC Tommy Forr, who made the finals in '06 and was a champion in '07.

Bengal Bouts is one of those unique Notre Dame institutions that just could not exist anywhere else. It's a relic of a sort of old school Muscular Christianity and the hard-nosed Catholicism on which Notre Dame was founded. The notion 'let's beat the stuffing out of each other, charge money and give it all to charity" just seems to me as quintessentially (old school) Catholic as ruler wielding nuns or fish on fridays. The Boxing Club still touts its wonderfully politically incorrect motto, "Strong bodies fight, that weak bodies make be nourished."

The Bouts are also unique in managing to combine the intense individual competition which is inherent in the sport with a deep sense of camaraderie and teamwork. Boxers undergo intensive training for three months as a team and then face off against each other as opponents but remain friends.

My grandfather Bill Burns '40 still remember the Bouts from his days at Notre Dame. A lot has changed since then when it was only a handful of boxers, but the spirit is the same.

The four days of fighting are as follows:


Prelims: Monday, February 25TH @ 6:30pm
Joyce Center Fieldhouse (2 RINGS)

Quarters: Thursday, February 28TH @ 6:30pm
Joyce Center Fieldhouse (2 RINGS)

Semis: Tuesday, March 11TH @ 7:00PM
Joyce Center Fieldhouse

Finals: Friday, March 14TH @ 7:30PM
Joyce Center Arena

I strongly encourage anyone who is on campus to come check it out. Any parents, alums or readers who would like to support the Bouts can contact

See today's print edition for more info and interviews with the captains and coaches.

Clinton in Steubenville

In the News Briefs section of today's Rover, there is a mention of this video of Bill Clinton berating pro-life protestors at a rally in Steubenville, Ohio. (Not much of a surprise that there'd be pro-lifers there ..)

A Little Bit of Inspiration

When we walk around campus we are bombarded by advirtisements for this event and that event. Depending on your interest you can see a foreign film, discuss the evils of men at feminist coffee hour, or play a friendly game of RISK. I occasionally spread myself too thin by adding event after event to my planner, which I just bought at 83% discount last week. However it is rare to stumble upon an event that is truly inspiring, amazing, enjoyable or worthwhile. Saving the planet is a noble goal, but it doesn't touch a certain chord of humanity that burns within us. Tonight, though I literally had 10 things listed to do tonight in addition to homework, there was one event that I made a concerted effort to attend. And it was well worth it.

Among the many posters scattered across the halls of O'Shaughnessy was one black and white flyer for a performance by Brittany Maier at the Annenburg Auditorium. Brittany is an 18-year old piano savant. She can play every song that she has ever heard. When she was six years old she taught herself Schubert's Ave Maria three days after her father bought a CD with the song on it. She learned the Notre Dame Fight Song on stage listening to an audience member whistle. At the age of ten she studied in the School of Music at the University of South Carolina and has composed two original albums. She has been featured on CNN and Dateline NBC. The teen prodigy from South Carolina was recently signed by Sid Bernstein, the producer who brought The Beatles to America, and she will play her first concert in Manhattan this spring. Brittany Maier is blind. And autistic. She was born four months premature and weighed one and a half pounds. After six months in the hospital she succeed in the face of a 5% chance to live.

Brittany only plays with six fingers; she doesn't use her thumbs or pinkies. She doesn't have to. She spends on average twelve hours a day playing piano, mostly pop music which is her favorite. She sang aloud to Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" and Billy Joel's "Piano Man" before delivering a perfect rendition of The Beatles' "Yesterday." She appeased the crowd with numbers from "Wicked" and Sir Elton John. Brittany has been called the best female pianist of our time. She is a real life Rainman and so much more.

Several Rover staff members, myself included, have siblings with special disabilities. For many of us, whether we know someone with special needs or not, it is easy to forget what persons with disabilities can contribute to society. Not every person has a once-in-a-generation talent like Brittany, but we are all people and we share a commune humanity with those who are like us and those who are not like us. Former Notre Dame Professor, spiritual luminary and vagabond priest Henri Nouwen finally found peace when he became the pastor of the L'Arche Daybreak community in Ontario. Living among those with disabilities, who so openly and honestly displayed their love and their fear, their belief and uncertainty, eased Nouwen's personal pain and allowed him to become one of the most important spiritual writers of the last 50 years. All people have this capacity for inspiration and comfort.

Brittany's ability is a "gift from God," a unique "musical miracle" that should be enjoyed and appreciated by all. At the same time, we should pay head to the less amazing but equally as important and significant abilities of all peoples with disabilities, they too are children of God. Brittany is showing the world what amazing things a person with disabilities can accomplish. There are many more like her who are equally as deserving of our love and admiration. Notre Dame is fortune to be able to support this wonderful young woman in her quest to share God's gift with the world.

Brittany, her mother Tammy and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Live! It's Production Night

Publisher Kevin Donahue doing what he does best: signing checks

Octavia Ratiu and Brad Duffy work on editing an article

(L to R) Octavia Ratiu, Ester Sims, and Emily Matich

A gaggle of Rover guys

Brandon Payne and Brian Boyd take a break from work to catch up - and pose for a picture

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In other happy news...

...the University announced its tuition increase for 2008-2009: 4.8%, the lowest percentage since 1960. Now financial aid better go up to at least $75.5 million or I'm afraid that Joe Russo's claim of making things happen is just false. Actually I will think that anyway until our financial aid rivals that of our "aspirational peers."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Remembering Connor Patrick McGrath

In the last hour, a facebook group was created in memory of Connor McGrath, the Notre Dame sophomore from Oklahoma City, OK and resident of Siegfried Hall who passed away in Dillon Hall Sunday afternoon. The group was apparently created by a member of McGrath's family.

From the profile:
This group is set up to celebrate the life of Connor McGrath who was born June 2, 1987 and tragically passed away February 16, 2008. Please post pictures, share stories and keep his memory alive.
UPDATE: I have been given permission by Connor's family to post a few more pictures of him. Also, since I didn't explicitly encourage it before, everyone should join the facebook group linked above. Please keep his family in your prayers during this difficult time.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Sad Day for ND

A friend pointed out this article to me tonight. No one knows any details yet:

SOUTH BEND — Two students at the University of Notre Dame students died over the weekend in separate and unrelated incidents, university officials said.

No details were released Sunday by Notre Dame officials, and the identities of the students were being withheld.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the university, extended his sympathies to the families of the two students.

According to the South Bend Tribune one student was found dead in Dillon Hall. The other, I heard, was a graduate student studying in London though this has not been confirmed yet.

Keep these students and their families in your prayers.

UPDATE (Matt): Apparently, the student who died in Dillon Hall on Sunday afternoon was a resident of Siegfried. Further updates will be posted as information is released to the public.

UPDATE #2: From today's Observer:
One of the students, Connor McGrath, was a sophomore who moved to Siegfried Hall in January. He died Sunday morning or early afternoon, Siegfried rector Father John Conley told students gathered at the dorm's Mass Sunday night.

McGrath's death did not take place in Siegfried, Conley said. His address was the first official notice to Siegfried residents of McGrath's death.

Local news outlets reported that a student died in Dillon Hall Sunday. This was unconfirmed Sunday night by University officials, who also had not released McGrath's name.

A call reporting an unresponsive male at Dillon was placed to the South Bend Fire Department at 1:39 p.m. Sunday, a fire department spokeswoman said. The ambulance arrived at Dillon at 1:53 p.m. and did not make a transport, she said.

No name has been released in the second death, but a number of dorm rectors said the student was not an undergraduate.
UPDATE #3: The following email was just received by the student body:
Dear Students,

As you may know, this past weekend we lost two members of the Notre Dame family.

We will gather for a Memorial Mass to honor the lives of Timothy R. Aher and Connor P. McGrath on Tuesday, February 19, 2008, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at 10:00 PM. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., University President, will preside.

All are invited to join together to pray for Tim and Connor, their families, and their friends.

Fr. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C.
Vice President for Student Affairs
Also, here is the full text of an official statement posted to the Notre Dame newswire:

Notre Dame releases names of students who died over the weekend

By: Dennis Brown
Date: February 18, 2008

The University of Notre Dame today (Feb. 18) released the names of two students who died in unrelated incidents over the weekend.

Timothy R. Aher, a second year Notre Dame Law School student from Brookfield, Conn., died tragically and unexpectedly Sunday (Feb. 17) in Ilford, England, a suburb of London. He was enrolled in the law school’s London Law Programme. Aher was 25.

Connor P. McGrath, a sophomore from Oklahoma City, died Sunday on campus.

A resident of Siegfried Hall, he had spent the night in the room of a friend in Dillon Hall, where he previously had resided. His body was discovered by friends at approximately 1:40 p.m.

Consistent with the University’s protocol, Notre Dame Security Police requested assistance from a St. Joseph County police investigative unit. Investigators from the unit and the county’s deputy coroner made a preliminary evaluation, pending an autopsy today, that the death appeared to be from natural causes, possibly related to McGrath’s history of diabetes.

McGrath intended to major in business. He was 20.

A memorial Mass for both students will take place at 10 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 19) in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., the University’s president, will preside. The homilist will be Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C., vice president for student affairs. Words of remembrance for Aher will be offered by Rev. John J. Coughlin, O.F.M., professor of law, and words of remembrance for McGrath will be offered by Rev. Peter M. McCormick, C.S.C., rector of Keough Hall.

Cue Card

I sympathize with the opinions expressed by my fellow editors regarding the seeming endlessness and exhaustion of the Vagina Monologues debate. As Matt Smith so incisively mentioned, those on both sides of the debate want to be rid of the annual bickering. Since we're all working towards that common goal, I thought that the words of Fr. Brian Shanley, OP, the President of Providence College, might serve as a model for our own Fr. Jenkins to end this once and for all. I think a little cut and paste might be appropriate.

Dear Members of the Providence College Community:

Having spent my first six months trying to learn about the campus culture, I would like to inaugurate a series of letters reflecting on some of the most debated questions that I have heard discussed since I began my ministry as president. I begin with the question of what is the most appropriate way for the Providence College community to work together to prevent violence against women. Some people feel passionately that the college ought to sponsor a V-Day production of The Vagina Monologues, and I have often been queried about my position on this matter. To prepare a response, I have carefully read and studied the play. I have met with some of the student leaders of Women’s Will, the main sponsoring group, to listen to their perspective and share some of my concerns. I have pondered their position, discussed the matter with many people, educated myself about what other Catholic schools have done, and prayed to God for guidance. I have come to the conclusion that a V-Day presentation of The Vagina Monologues is not appropriate for a school with our mission. Let me explain why.

The back cover of my paperback edition of The Vagina Monologues asserts (1) that its principal aim is to be “a celebration of female sexuality in all its complexity and mystery” and (2) that it has been “hailed as a bible for a new generation of women.” I would argue that both of these claims are false. First, far from celebrating the complexity and mystery of female sexuality, The Vagina Monologues simplifies and demystifies it by reducing it to the vagina. In contrast, Roman Catholic teaching sees female sexuality as ordered toward a loving giving of self to another in a union of body, mind, and soul that is ordered to the procreation of new life. The deeper complexity and mystery lies in the capacity of human sexuality, both male and female, to sacramentalize the love of God in marriage. Any depiction of female sexuality that neglects its unitive and procreative dimensions diminishes its complexity, its mystery, and its dignity. Moreover, to explore fully the dignity of woman requires not only a consideration of female sexuality, but also of the capacity of women for intellectual, artistic, moral, and spiritual activity; none of these dimensions are featured in The Vagina Monologues.

Second, the description of the play as a “new bible” is an indication that its depiction of female sexuality is meant to displace the traditional Biblical view that inspires the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. The two positions are deeply and diametrically opposed. Nowhere is this clearer than in a monologue wherein the alcohol-fueled seduction of a sixteen-year-old girl by a twenty-four-year-old woman is described as resulting in “salvation” and “a kind of heaven.” What is thus characterized in traditional religious language is instead abusive, demeaning, exploitative, and morally wrong according to the true Bible. Precisely because its depiction of female sexuality is so deeply at odds with the true meaning and morality that the Catholic Church’s teaching celebrates, The Vagina Monologues is not an appropriate play to be performed on our campus. Therefore the college will prohibit the production of The Vagina Monologues.

Doubtless some will reply that this is a violation of artistic freedom. But artistic freedom on a Catholic campus cannot mean the complete license to perform or display any work of art regardless of its intellectual or moral content. Any institution which sanctioned works of art that undermined its deepest values would be inauthentic, irresponsible, and ultimately self-destructive. At Providence College artistic freedom is governed by the values embodied in our mission statement. A Catholic college cannot sanction the performance of works of art that are inimical to the teaching of the Church in an area as important as female sexuality and the dignity of women.

This policy will inevitably raise questions regarding academic freedom. The true meaning of academic freedom is often misunderstood; it is not the license to hold any view that one chooses. Academic freedom is instead always governed by truth. It is the freedom to pursue the truth in a discipline in accord with the accepted canons of inquiry without any impediment by extraneous considerations. Prohibiting a theatrical production of The Vagina Monologues does not prohibit free inquiry about the play. All members of the campus are free to read, study, and discuss the play in various settings, especially the classroom. It is perfectly appropriate that we study texts that have diverse views in order both to broaden our understanding of others and to bring our own views into sharper focus. I fully expect that one result of this communication will be some controversy. As a long-time student of St. Thomas Aquinas, I think disputes are an important part of education, so long as they are conducted with charity. While arguments about intellectual positions help us to learn from each other, attacks on persons do not.


It is my hope and prayer that we can move beyond disagreement on the merits of a particular text and work together on a cause that unites us all. Let us strive for a deeper appreciation of God’s gift of human sexuality in all its complexity and mystery. Let us endeavor to educate the community about the peculiar threat to human dignity that is violence against women. Let us work together for the healing of all who have survived such violence. If our efforts are grounded in truth and animated by love, then by the grace of God at work within us, our efforts will bear much fruit.

Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., Ph.D.