"The more girls we get into the system, the more chances for healthy development," agrees Sheridan McCabe, the university counseling psychologist, a job created four years ago after the first student suicide in campus history added to a growing feeling that perhaps the confessional was not always enough to answer all the inner needs of students. "It's a different world," he says. "These students need to deal with ambiguity, to be frustrated as hell and yet live with it, even thrive on it. That's a kind of discipline, too."
The Holy Cross fathers, their ranks thinning in recent years, have seen their influence wane both in the classroom, where they now make up only a small fraction of the faculty, and in the residence halls. Although many of them still serve as hall rectors, others are moving out. "I felt like a glorified janitor," explains the Rev. Edmund Murray, who recently quit after 16 years as a rector. The clerical split over the university's recent course was only too evident at last summer's chapter meeting of the local Holy Cross province, when a motion praising the leadership of Hesburgh and other Notre Dame officials ran into opposition and was quietly tabled.
As this suggests, Hesburgh is not immune to the political hazards of heading a university. Although he has gone along with some campus reforms—women's visiting hours, for one—only with deepest reluctance, the more conservative Holy Cross fathers, along with a good many alumni, accuse him of capitulating to students. And while he is a practicing liberal who shares youth's concern about Vietnam and racism, it is tempting for some students to regard him as one of the pillars holding up the Establishment.
To his own discomfort, part of the headline-reading public seems to regard Hesburgh in almost Agnewesque terms, as a hard-liner with students. The reason is his now-famous statement, issued in February 1969 following disorderly demonstrations on his campus. It warned that anybody engaging in unlawful demonstrations in the future would be given "15 minutes of meditation to cease and desist"—or face on-the-spot suspension.
The statement, as Hesburgh has been busily explaining ever since, also contained a defense of peaceful dissent and a warning that political interference in campus affairs could lead to "a rebirth of fascism." But all that was obscured by his 15-minute-or-else edict, which President Nixon eagerly endorsed in a letter that began, "Dear Ted...."
Most Notre Dame students resent the overpopular image of themselves as choirboys out of harmony with the times, and one can derive a sense of being fashionably with-it from the fact that the campus does have its full-blaze dissidents. Still, nearly everybody agrees that their numbers are minuscule, and the student body as a whole remains slow to get riled up politically. One sign of this is that Notre Dame is one of the few schools with ROTC programs in all three military services. Total ROTC participation has dropped, however, from a fourth of the student body in 1967 to 10% today.
And while most students have come around to opposing the Vietnam war—witness the number of conscientious objectors—Notre Dame is scarcely in the vanguard of antiwar activity. As recently as 1967 the senior class still gave a Patriot of the Year award, the recipient that year being General William Westmoreland, a symbol of something other than approbation on most other U.S. campuses.
Notre Dame men seem at times to draw their political inspiration from the labor movement, their preoccupation with bread-and-butter campus matters taking precedence over world and national affairs. But events can sometimes jolt the rank and file into the broader arena, as the week of rallies, diversions and protest marches over Cambodia and Kent State showed. In boycotting classes, many of the student body ignored a plea from Hesburgh (management, of course) to remain in class. But Hesburgh maintained control of the situation and helped shape the direction of the protests by calling at a campus rally for U.S. withdrawal at "the earliest moment," a statement that students promptly took door to door in South Bend, collecting 23,000 signatures.
Hesburgh's handling of the campus protests was a big success, meaning that he did not fully satisfy any of his critics. One of these was Dave Krashna, a senior from Pittsburgh and the first black ever elected president of Notre Dame's student body. Krashna, a leader of the boycott, applauds Hesburgh's antiwar stance, but remains righteously cynical when he says, "The father never acts, he just reacts." Another critic is Glen Corso, editor of The Observer and a political conservative who supported the Cambodian operation. "Hesburgh really psyched up the students with that speech of his," Corso complains.
Significantly, however, both Krashna and Corso express grudging admiration for the Notre Dame president. Corso concedes: "He's adroit. He can go to the alumni and say, 'Well, you may not like the way things are going, but compared to Harvard or Berkeley we're a sea of sanity.' " Although 23,000 signatures didn't exactly win Hesburgh another "Dear Ted" letter from the White House, and while a boycott of classes was hardly anyone's idea of conservatism, the fact remains that the university did get through one of the nation's most violent weeks without major disruption.