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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
The Observer

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Letter to the Editor: Tamara Kay on Fr. Jenkins

In a May 1 interview with President Jenkins in The Observer, he commented on a letter he wrote to the Chicago Tribune in December 2022 about an editorial Dr. Susan Ostermann and I wrote in our capacity as scholars and experts in the Keough School on government regulation and reproductive health policy. The Observer, President Jenkins and many of my colleagues at Notre Dame have focused on this in relationship to academic freedom. But what hurt and distressed me the most was not the violation of my academic freedom. It was President Jenkins’s blatant disregard for the safety of me and my family, his unwillingness to communicate with me or respond to any of my safety concerns, and his failure to recognize that his actions invited and exposed me to more abuse and harassment. 

As has been extensively reported in the media, for the past two years, I have been subjected to an ongoing targeted campaign of harassment and abuse that began when Dr. Ostermann and I successfully published editorials on reproductive health policy, including abortion, in major news outlets. She too, received threatening and harassing emails. From the beginning, I sought President Jenkins' help and informed him of the abuse. In an email on October 12, 2022, I wrote to President Jenkins (and other administrators), and provided an example of the threatening email I was receiving: “Tamara Kay should be a** f*cked under Touchdown Jesus at noon on the Friday before Homecoming.” I explained that many of these emails were from Notre Dame alumni and parents, and I asked him for help. President Jenkins did not respond to my email, not even to offer any empathy for the cruelty I was experiencing. I wrote two additional emails to President Jenkins (and other administrators) on October 13th and 14th asking for help, and neither he, nor the other administrators, responded to my email. 

And then, on Dec. 6, 2022, in the Chicago Tribune, President Jenkins publicly condemned an editorial on abortion Dr. Susan Ostermann and I published in that newspaper a few days earlier. It was unnecessary because we included a disclaimer that we were not speaking for the University, and scholars never represent their Universities when they write editorials. It was also an unprecedented attack by a university president on women faculty’s expertise, research and policy work. But it was particularly shattering that he so thoughtlessly whipped up another round of vitriolic harassment with his statement after ignoring my pleas to help stop it months earlier.

The next day when President Jenkins’ letter spurred a new round of harassment, I was concerned about my safety and the safety of my students. I contacted a Notre Dame police officer for advice, and he suggested I either find another room in which to teach, or he would assign a plainclothes police officer to stand outside my classroom. He asked if President Jenkins had notified or warned me and Dr. Ostermann that he was writing and publishing the letter in the Chicago Tribune. No, I said. He did not.

The profound devastation I have felt over the last two years is not a result of President Jenkins’ disregard for my academic freedom which, it should be emphasized, is worthless if a university and its president allow a hostile, harassing work environment to flourish around people who exercise it. The profound sadness I feel results from President Jenkins’ disregard for me as a human being, and for the lack of kindness and compassion, dignity and respect he has shown. It is the responsibility of university administrators, starting at the top with our president, to not only ensure faculty safety, but to engage in no actions that foment the harassment and abuse of faculty, staff or students. It is also the professional duty and moral obligation of the president and administrators to prevent faculty from targeting and bullying each other, and to sanction those that do. I hope the next president holds these responsibilities sacrosanct so that we can all thrive and be safe in this beloved community.

Tamara Kay

professor of global affairs and sociology

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.