Like so many others, Notre Dame President Father Jenkins flouted COVID-19 until he got it

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Notre Dame campus
Notre Dame campus
Image: (Getty Images)

Hindsight is 20/20. Lack of foresight is 2020.

If there are four words that encapsulate this year, they might just be “and then what happened?”

Rudy Gobert joked about COVID-19 and touched every microphone at a press conference in March. And then what happened?

Donald Trump mocked Joe Biden in Tuesday night’s presidential debate for wearing a mask. And then what happened?


Father John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, wrote a New York Times op-ed in May titled, “We’re Reopening Notre Dame. It’s Worth the Risk.” And then what happened?

Image for article titled Like so many others, Notre Dame President Father Jenkins flouted COVID-19 until he got it
Screenshot: NYT

A coronavirus outbreak on campus in August immediately showed what the risk was of reopening, and Notre Dame had to move classes online.

The football team’s pregame meal led to another outbreak and the postponement of the Fighting Irish’s game against Wake Forest last weekend.


While Notre Dame wasn’t playing football, Jenkins was sitting in the White House Rose Garden, not socially distanced and not wearing a mask, for the announcement of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. And now Jenkins has tested positive for coronavirus.


Just a few feet away from Jenkins at that ceremony was Vice President Mike Pence, whose leadership of the United States’ coronavirus response task force was an unsurprising failure given the way he presided as governor over the worst HIV outbreak in Indiana history.

Notre Dame’s statement did not pin Jenkins’ positive test to the White House event, instead saying that Jenkins “learned that a colleague with whom he has been in regular contact tested positive for COVID-19. Fr. Jenkins was tested and found to be positive for COVID-19 too.”


Maybe that’s true. After all, Notre Dame has operated just as recklessly as the White House when it comes to handling coronavirus. Jenkins laid out exactly how he planned to fuck up in his Times op-ed.

“Our decision to return to on-campus classes for the fall semester was guided by three principles that arise from our core university goals,” Jenkins wrote. “First, we strive to protect the health of our students, faculty, staff and their loved ones. Second, we endeavor to offer an education of the whole person — body, mind and spirit — and we believe that residential life and personal interactions with faculty members and among students are critical to such an education. Finally, we seek to advance human understanding through research, scholarship and creative expression.


“If we gave the first principle absolute priority, our decision about reopening would be easy. We would keep everyone away until an effective vaccine was universally available.


No! No “however.” Health should get absolute priority, because without health, there is no “education of the whole person” or “human understanding through research, scholarship and creative expression.”


It wouldn’t be necessary to wait for an effective vaccine to be universally available to have a safe reopening. That could be accomplished with containment of the virus, aggressive contact tracing, and strict adherence to safety protocols. Apparently those things, especially the last one, are just too much to ask of irresponsible people at off-campus parties. Like, way off campus. Like, in the White House Rose Garden.

“For questions about moral value — how we ought to decide and act — science can inform our deliberations, but it cannot provide the answer,” Jenkins wrote.


Yes it can! The answer is “wear a mask,” not just because of science, but also because of morality. Wearing a mask helps to protect the people around you, to keep them safe, to be the best community member you can be at a challenging time.

“We may need to reconcile ourselves to the fact that we are facing not simply a passing crisis, but a new normal,” Jenkins wrote. “For that and similar challenges, we need moral insight.”


Jenkins has shown that he lacks that. He needlessly and recklessly exposed his university community to a raging pandemic in a state where cases were on the rise through the summer before students even returned to campus. He pressed ahead with sports, a naked cash grab that put more students’ and staffers’ health at risk. And he went to the White House to celebrate the decision — by an administration that has mishandled this virus so badly to get us to this point — to nominate a Supreme Court justice before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was even buried, all while not wearing a mask and mingling in a crowd of fellow mask-shunners.

Hindsight is 20/20. Jenkins’ complete lack of foresight is so very 2020.