Monday's front-page story by Dirk Johnson, "Invitation to Obama Stirs Up Notre Dame," observed the firestorm over pro-choice President Obama's forthcoming commencement address to the nation's foremost Catholic university.
Although protests of conservative speakers are almost a requirement on your average college campus, Johnson suddenly seemed quite worried how a conservative pro-life protest against a liberal Democratic president would affect Notre Dame's reputation for "academic freedom."
As church bells pealed, Claire Gillen, a Notre Dame freshman, stood on the stone steps of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, accusing this fabled Roman Catholic institution of sin and sacrilege.
"It's a scandal," said Ms. Gillen, voicing outrage over the university's invitation toPresident Obama, a supporter of abortion rights, to deliver the commencement address here on May 17.
Some alumni have called the campus saying they have thrown away their Fighting Irish sweatshirts in disgust. The local bishop, John D'Arcy, has vowed to boycott the graduation ceremony. A visiting high school senior, Halley Chavey, who said she was thrilled just weeks ago to be accepted here, said she might reject the offer because the college was hosting "the most pro-abortion president we've ever had."
But for all the high-pitched indignation, the talk among students and faculty on this gothic campus of towering oaks and sculpted saints seems to reveal a strikingly upbeat mood about Mr. Obama's visit.
"Most of us are like, 'Wow, the president of the United States is coming,'" said Brett Ensor, a Texas native who belongs to the Knights of Columbus, opposes abortion and voted for Mr. Obama's Republican opponent, SenatorJohn McCain. "What college wouldn't want Obama to come? This is a tremendous honor for us."
Threatened protests of the president's visit by some conservative groups on campus have left liberal students like Max Young cringing over what they say is the portrayal of Notre Dame as insulated and narrow-minded.
If some students skip the graduation ceremony, or turn their backs on Mr. Obama, as some conservative student groups have urged, it would not be the first time Notre Dame graduates have signaled disagreement with a visiting president. When President George W. Bush spoke at the commencement in 2001, many students wore armbands signaling their opposition to his support of the death penalty.
But the appearance of Mr. Obama, in the view of some Catholic officials, is grounds for a deeper moral battle....
Apparently there was nothing "cringe"-inducing about students protesting Republican president Bush, only Democrat Obama.
Johnson forwarded a warning by a professor that "a belligerent stand against Mr. Obama would portray the school as weak on academic freedom," while another "prominent liberal theologian" blamed conservative Catholics "upset that Obama won the election - and they want to pick a fight," before concluding with student Gillen, who said: "Abortion is central to the faith. It's a nonnegotiable issue."
Strangely, the Times didn't raise concerns about academic freedom in a 2007 story on protests at a Bush commencement address at another Catholic college, instead usingit to highlight Bush's unpopularity.