By Jacqueline L. Salmon
A new front has opened in the battle over the commencement appearance by President Barack Obama at the University of Notre Dame. This one involves money.
Groups protesting the event are turning to alumni, hoping that dollars will speak louder than petitions, which have failed to budge the university to rescind the invitation.
The latest message from one group of Notre Dame alumni: either university President Rev. John I. Jenkins steps down and the Obama invitation is withdrawn, or we withhold our donations to the school.
The endeavor is being organized by David DiFranco, the CEO of a Michigan corporate travel agency, along with six other alumni. He says it’s not just about Obama.
“There’s been a history of some questionable leadership,” at the school, he said in an interview this morning. The Obama invitation was “the straw, or the log, that broke the camel’s back.”
The group has a Web site that doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s called replacejenkins.com. Signatories are asked to put down the amount of money they will withhold from the university.
DiFranco acknowledges that it would be easy for anyone to put down any amount, but that his group plans some due diligence to ensure that the total is accurate.
The move is the latest front in the effort to force the university to back down from its invitation to Obama, who will also receive an honorary degree. Groups opposed to the Obama speech have gathered hundreds of thousands of online petition signatures and have promised large demonstrations before, and during, the commencement ceremony on May 17. (There’s been somewhat of backlash to that, though, with the local bishop asking people to stay away from the protests.)
University spokesman Dennis Brown declined to comment on this latest move, although university officials have said in the past that Jenkins won’t step down and the Obama invitation won’t be rescinded.
“We knew that there would be criticism and support” of the Obama invitation, said Brown. “And we’ve received both.”