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Notre Dame’s President Went Unmasked at White House, Then Tested Positive. Now He’s Under Fire

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tags: public health, Notre Dame, Donald Trump, colleges and universities, COVID-19



The Friday revelation that the University of Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John I. Jenkins, tested positive for Covid-19 less than a week after appearing unmasked at the White House spurred intense criticism and calls for his resignation. And it brought charges that the university was guilty of a double standard by asking students to follow social-distancing rules while allowing the president to flout them.

The disclosure came just hours after President Trump — who this week ridiculed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for wearing a mask — dropped the bombshell news on Twitter early Friday morning that he and the first lady, Melania Trump, had tested positive for the virus. By Saturday morning, Jenkins and four other guests who attended the September 26 event — Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, the former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, and Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor — had all revealed their positive tests. Trump, who was reportedly showing mild symptoms, was transported Friday evening to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Jenkins had been among more than 150 guests at the Rose Garden ceremony where Trump formally introduced Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor and alumna, as his nominee to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 87-year-old associate justice died on September 18 from complications of pancreatic cancer. Trump’s nomination of the socially conservative Barrett to fill the vacancy created by the death of the iconic Ginsburg before the November 3 presidential election infuriated liberals still seething over Senate Republicans’ refusal four years earlier to grant a hearing to President Barack Obama’s centrist Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

When Jenkins was photographed maskless and craning his neck to see Trump introduce Barrett at the Rose Garden event, the criticism was swift and severe. But politics may have had little to do with it.

After the pandemic forced the abrupt shutdown of college campuses in the spring, Jenkins became an early and prominent advocate of reopening them safely and in person this fall. In May he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which he said that bringing students back to his university for face-to-face instruction was “worth the risk.” He cited Aristotle and argued that reopening Notre Dame was the university’s “attempt to find the courageous mean as we face the threat of the virus and seek to continue our mission of education and inquiry.”

Notre Dame was one of the first institutions to embrace higher education’s Thanksgiving scenario: Bring students to campus two weeks early, forgo fall break, then send them back home for the semester before Thanksgiving. The plan, as Jenkins laid it out in the Times op-ed, would involve extensive testing protocols, contact tracing, and quarantining. And of course “physical distancing and, in certain settings, the wearing of masks.”

Jenkins ran afoul of his own safety rules in early August, before fall classes had even started. The president posed for a photo, wearing a mask but tightly surrounded by a group of students on the quad. He quickly apologized to Notre Dame students for getting “swept up in the excitement and celebration of your return,” and vowed to adhere to distancing guidelines in the future.

 

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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