Ads policy Prohibits Capitalists
Todd David Whitmore
The University has set forth a new advertising policy with regard to groups holding or espousing positions contrary to the official teaching of the Church. The initial focus of the policy is the group Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's (GALA-ND/SMC). The policy prohibits the placement of ads by any outside groups that, "directly or indirectly, espouse positions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church." GALA was identified because its positions were considered contrary to Church teaching and its ads were seen as benefitting the group GLND/SMC (Gays and Lesbians of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College), a student group not recognized by the University. The policy is also that unrecognized student groups cannot advertise. The judgement was that if GALA advertised it would in effect be GLND/SMC advertising.
The Observer has already published a host of responses debating the policy, and the various positions have been set out. What have not been discussed yet are the implications of other parts of the letter, which also states that any pro-choice organization or an abortion clinic would not be allowed to advertise. The Observer quotes Chandra Johnson, assistant to the President and author of the letter as elaborating, "Our hope is that as the policy stands for this issue there would be a pervasiveness that would apply to similar groups." The questions that arise are those of just how broad is "pervasively" and what counts as a "similar" group. Going by the text of the letter, the key concern is fittingness with Catholic teaching. The Observer quotes Ms. Johnson as saying that GALA was highlighted because, "we are a Catholic institution, we uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Such a policy would seem to raise questions about a November 1998 ad for the "systems innovator" SCIENT. It reads, "At SCIENT, we have the passion, the processes and the know-how to build eBusiness innovations that help companies create wealth and crush their competitors!" Now, it is important to point out that Catholic social teaching does in fact support the creation of wealth that occurs in the market as a genuine good. The part of the ad that is more disconcerting is that which emphasizes, with enthusiasm, crushing one's competitors. According to church teaching, the market, and the right to private property that makes the market possible, are to serve the common good and individual interest only insofar as it is consonant with the common good. It may be for the common good that poorly-run businesses fail, but the rallying cry to crush one's competitors goes beyond simply allowing other businesses to succeed or fail of their own accord. The ad ends with details for on-campus recruiting.
If we note the letter's focus on prohibiting ads from groups that hold positions contrary to Church teaching "directly or indirectly" then the application of the policy to campus recruiters extends much more widely. Raytheon, Amoco, General Electric, Salomon Smith Barney, Proctor and Gamble, and other firms and corporations have all advertised in The Observer. None have made as bold a statement about their intents and practices as SCIENT. However, if the question regards "indirect" support for views and practices contrary to Catholic teachings, then the issue of whether they should be able to advertise remains a live one. In the case of GALA, one reading of "indirect" is that the presence of the group, regardless of what it directly espouses, allows the presence of views and practices that are contrary to Church teaching. In the case of both GALA and, say, Proctor and Gamble, one would have to investigate the actual practices of the organization and the views and practices of the persons within to make a definitive judgment, but there seems to be no prima facie reason to treat the cases differently. On the contrary, given the range of Church teaching, the presumption would be on the side of treating them similarly.
The matter becomes more pressing if we look at the language of then Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia O'Hara in her March 7, 1995 remarks to the Faculty Senate. The objection to GLND/SMC is extended to its use of "value neutral language." Here, the group is presumed to be contrary to Church teaching unless it states clearly its support for that teaching. My interpretation is that the University's experience with GLND/SMC was such that it felt it had probable basis on which to establish such a presumption. The point here is that it is possible to do a history of corporate business practices in the United States in light of Catholic social teaching and arrive at a similar presumption. Should businesses advertising in the Observer be required to make an explicit statement of their compliance with Catholic teaching?
There is one important area where Notre Dame is moving in just such a direction. Last spring, President Malloy appointed a "Task Force on Anti-Sweatshop Initiatives." Our task is to make policy recommendations to the President regarding a code of conduct for businesses that contract with the University to make Notre Dame apparel and paraphernalia. It is a serious investment of the University's time, money, and energy. Failure to comply with the new code on the part of the businesses will be grounds for termination of contract. The question which the new policy on advertising raises is whether there are not also other fronts on which to address the University's identity in relation to the Church's social teaching, which, as John Paul II has commented, is "an essential part of the Christian message."
Todd David Whitmore is an associate professor of theology. His column usually appears every other Friday.
The views expressed in this column are not neccessarily those of the Observer
All Viewpoint Stories for Wednesday, September 8, 1999