Editor’s note: This article was published in print on about Nov. 1 and on the internet Nov. 3. Also on Nov. 3, Marquette Today, a university newsletter, published a message from leadership at Marquette University, “Respecting our shared dignity.” The article condemns the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and calls for Israel to mimimize the loss of innocent civilian life in Gaza.
* * *
In recent years, American colleges and universities have struggled on the question of whether they have an institutional responsibility to take a stand on contemporary moral and social issues. One view says “no”: that the purpose of higher education is to train students to critically evaluate opposing views for themselves, and to provide a forum in which faculty can, in their writings and teaching, present diverse views, with due protection of academic freedom. This is the view prominently taken by the 1967 Kalven Committee report of the University of Chicago, which argues for “a heavy presumption against the university taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political or social issues of the day.” As a Catholic, Jesuit institution, Marquette University has often not accepted the guidelines of the Kalven Committee. Spiritual and moral guidance is central to Marquette’s mission. For example, the voice of Marquette’s Vice President of Mission and Ministry has been an important one in calling for social justice after the killings of George Floyd and Tyre Nichols, and has of course been outspoken on the Church’s stance on the abortion question.
For this reason, the communication of Oct. 10, “Praying for peace in the Middle East” by Rev. John Thiede, S.J. Acting Vice President for Mission and Ministry, is especially disappointing. Thiede avoids condemnation of Hamas for its murderous attack on civilians. He urges no military action that could endanger civilians, essentially proclaiming that Israel has no right to self-defense.
Thiede’s statement is a clear declaration that Marquette intends to take a stance of “both sides are to blame” and fails to employ its moral authority to support its Jewish students. Marquette faculty have heard from Jewish students who have felt isolated and unsupported. Social media posts by Marquette students in support of Hamas are rampant. Students are shaken, and do not at this point regard the university as able to offer the sort of guidance and counseling that is needed.
Some Marquette faculty and students have written to university leadership asking for the university to follow the example of Pope Francis and offer a clear condemnation of Hamas. Silence. Although invited, no one from university leadership attended Tuesday’s vigil sponsored by our Jewish Student Union in conjunction with Hillel Milwaukee, an affiliate of our Office of Campus Ministry.
There is pain and suffering among both Jews and Palestinians these days, and we all need to understand what others are going through. We all pray to the Almighty that peace and understanding come soon. We recognize that what ethicists call “dirty hands” are unavoidable in times of war. But there are red lines that are not to be crossed: these include the gleefully indiscriminate slaughter of civilians of which Hamas is guilty. Marquette University’s “both sides-ism” is in effect an erasure of these lines and an abdication of its moral authority.
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Marquette University
Associate Professor, Department of Theology, Marquette University
Opinion articles, like this one, are not necessarily representative of the views of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.