To mark the Notre Dame Observer's 45th anniversary, the school newspaper reprinted their very first issue, from Nov. 3, 1966. We are posting here an article we especially enjoyed, detailing the campus politics of the student senate of the time. Read to the end for student Ken Beirne's incisive commentary on student life in 1966 and the direction the University was heading: “It is time for one last look; when it happens there will be no memories for there will be no awareness. The Notre Dame boy can choose relative asceticism and a grasp of life, or he can for the final time reaffirm his weary attempts at alcoholic or sexual prowess and settle for ontological impotence. To have both is impossible.”
Thursday, November 3, 1966
“The Magnificent Reactionary” by Dennis O’Dea
To call Notre Dame a hot bed of seething discontent and potential eruption would be as far from the truth as labeling motherhood a subversive institution. Notre Dame is the home of the “Fighting Irish,” Our Lady, and Knute Rockne – that’s all.
Yet people do live there. And every fall they elect representatives whose task it is to articulate their thought – a very difficult challenge; but one that is met with great courage and energy by the asps and fish on the campus.
Ideas are never very central to Student Government elections – though it is in vogue now to rattle your sword over student rights and freedom. The way to get rights and freedom, of course, is to take University authority, and drown it in the lake, and replace it with student responsibility, honor code, and community spirit. And just about everybody seems to agree that there lies the hope and salvation of Our Lady...almost everybody.
In the senate election in Lyons Hall though, Kenneth Beirne decided to challenge the popular mythology and suggest a new approach. Said Beirne: “We are now unfettered, but we are not free. Freedom demands a purpose. The man is not free who has no chains, unless he has something to do. In the last year we have seen freedom of motion take over in the absence of a significant sense of m oral and academic freedom. Soon the latter may both be gone.”
We are all members of the great “honest” and “sincere” generation. Everyone is being “honest” about sexual morality and ethical values. Students at Notre Dame are honest too – or as Ken Beirne says, “honestly dishonest.” And when they say they want freedom, they are quite clear in how they define it: elimination of all curfews, and restrictions on their physical freedom, women in the halls, cars for everybody – and anything else they think they might have overlooked (i.e. anarchy). The assumption seems to be that the best authority at all – let Christian community take care of it – whatever that means.
Ken Beirne did not take a very positive view of this student action in his campaign: “The Asp (or ASP if you will) seems certain that the administration is afraid of them. I rather think it hopes they’ll stay around, for if that organization and Student Government keep themselves busy on cars and other trivia, they won’t look at themselves and discover that they are the symptoms of a rapidly weakening Christian educational system. Those demanding surfeit cannot at the same time demand an education, and that demand the administration fears, for I don’t think it’s at all sure how to go about it. The administration can only sit in horror, wondering what someone in the past knew that they don’t, and watch Notre Dame be slowly turned into a chicken Berkeley.”
And this is the central accusation Beirne makes against the Notre Dame community. The Administration is not providing its students with an education, is not providing the moral center this generation desperately needs. Instead it is hiding behind its long black skirts and slowly retreating before the hysteria of freedom, student rights and anarchy.
And what has to be done to save Notre Dame from “Chicken” Berkeleyism? Here Ken Beirne fights extremism with extremism with such proposals as: “…reduction of the student body to a tolerable level, at the cost of the non-liberal arts schools” …and… “voluntary reinstatement of curfews and similar restrictions, sponsored by the student body, to preserve leisure on campus and provide any interested advisor with a clue to the most severely disoriented individuals.” Along with these rather unique suggestions, are more common and conservative demands for reevaluation of stay hall, honor code, curriculum faculty salaries, tuition, and the traditional demand for a more interested and involved clergy – yet here Ken breaks out and blazes a new trail. Instead of demanding that the University show its interest by acquiescing to student demands and assist the march toward anarchy, he wants the students to “force” the University to take power: “It is time the Catholic clergy reaffirmed its right to butt in on its own students’ personal lives, or else let it take up knitting.” So there it is – the emergence of the Anti-student, a student who does not want other students “to escape from the realization that it might take four years of relative asceticism to prepare oneself for a meaningful moral existence.”
Whether the newly emergent student rightists or Asp people lose any sleep over Ken Beirne’s six page challenge to their credo is unimportant – the challenge is there. Are students at Notre Dame running away from what they know is the truth? Ken Beirne thinks they are: “It is time for one last look; when it happens there will be no memories for there will be no awareness. The Notre Dame boy can choose relative asceticism and a grasp of life, or he can for the final time reaffirm his weary attempts at alcoholic or sexual prowess and settle for ontological impotence. To have both is impossible.”
Ideas such as these will neither sway the masses nor win elections. The most they can hope to do is provoke a response. And whether or not Notre Dame’s absent-minded student body is able to respond is an open question.