Relatively few academic leaders achieved the notoriety of the now deceased Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, who for 35 years was the president of the University of Notre Dame.
During this age of unruly and irrational student protests on the campuses of America’s universities, I’m reminded of Father Hesburgh’s handling of similar situations when they arose on ND’s campus in 1969. To Hesburgh, protest was a matter of manner. One was not free to protest beyond the point where it impeded the freedom of other members of the campus community. You could legitimately picket campus job interviewers by the CIA or the Dow Chemical company, but you could not force fellow students to walk on bodies to exercise their right of access. Students who crossed the line had to accept the consequences.
That was the basis of Hesburgh’s famous “15 Minutes or Out” statement in 1969, which came out at the height of nationwide campus disturbances:
Anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or nonviolent, will be given 15 minutes of meditation to cease and desist … If they do not within that time period cease and desist, they will be asked for their identity cards. Those who produce these will be suspended from this community as not understanding what this community is. Those who do not have or will not produce identity cards will be assumed not to be members of the community and will be charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace on private property and treated accordingly by the law.
The statement, issued with the endorsement of several campus groups (but not the Arts and Letters College Council) hit a national nerve. It was welcomed by many college and university presidents as a timely defense of the besieged forum of academe. And it ended irrational and inconsiderate protests on Notre Dame’s campus.
Perhaps today’s befuddled University administrators could take a cue from “Father Ted”‘s decisivie example?
(The above was paraphrased from a Notre Dame publication in tribute to Father Hesburgh following his death in 2015.)