Trinity President Patricia McGuire will receive the Alexander Meiklejohn Award for Academic Freedom from the American Association of University Professors on June 12 at the AAUP’s annual meeting. This is the AAUP’s most prestigious award and is given to an American college or university administrator in recognition of an outstanding contribution to academic freedom during the preceding year. President McGuire was selected for this award for her 2009 Commencement remarks at Trinity, in which she denounced the “religious vigilantism” of those who opposed President Barack Obama’s Commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, and defended the principle of academic freedom.
In the citation for her award, the AAUP notes that “President McGuire called the pressure against Notre Dame ‘one of the angriest and most aggressively hostile efforts to block a commencement speaker ever endured by any American university.’ Citing the precedent of luminaries such as Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, a former Meiklejohn Award recipient, President McGuire noted that the ‘great leaders of the Vatican II era developed a rich and extensive body of thought supporting the fundamental premise that our faith should not fear freedom, but rather, embrace it; that we must engage with our culture, not shun it; and that Catholic universities must have the same high intellectual standards as all universities, nurturing academic freedom as the bedrock of excellence in scholarship and teaching.’ President McGuire warned her commencement audience that ‘[t]he terrible danger of the siege of Notre Dame, and the ugly specter of Catholic vigilantism’s efforts to intimidate Catholic academic leaders and politicians is that Catholics will be driven back to the edges of American life, unable or unwilling to be elected to public office, as we once were, unable or unwilling to engage with our colleagues of other faith traditions in the difficult, bruising, uncomfortable yet utterly necessary debates about essential moral issues that contribute to the shape of our society.’”
The AAUP citation recognizes her passionate commitment to academic freedom: “President McGuire has a reputation for speaking out on topics other college presidents will not touch. She understood clearly that the drama that unfolded last year on the Notre Dame campus would affect the future of all Catholic colleges. She spoke out when others did not. Her passion for justice, for the salutary benefits of open and rigorous debate, for what is simply right did not allow her to keep silent. Her voice has provided inspiration, encouragement and guidance to the leaders of Catholic colleges and universities across the country and, in fact, to all those in the academy who must resist the forces of censorship and repression.”
President McGuire’s Commencement remarks were adapted into an op-ed, “The Real Scandal at Notre Dame,” that was published by Inside Higher Ed.
The AAUP’s Alexander Meikeljohn Award was established in 1957 by alumni and former faculty of the Experimental College at the University of Wisconsin where Meiklejohn was a philosopher and proponent of civil liberties and academic freedom. The award is not given every year and AAUP reserves the distinction for those occasions when an accomplishment is identified as so outstanding as to merit being singled out. It was most recently awarded in 2003 to Molly Broad, then president of the University of North Carolina, and now president of the American Council on Education.