By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, September 2, 2010 ( – A top pro-life professor at the University of Notre Dame is calling into question the motives of the university after Bill Kirk, a long-time member of the Notre Dame community and the only administration member to join a protest against President Obama’s appearance on campus, was abruptly terminated.

In May 2009, Kirk boycotted the official graduation ceremony at which President Obama was giving the commencement address and receiving an honorary law degree, and instead attended an alternate graduation ceremony held by pro-life graduates protesting Obama. Bishop John D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend, whose diocese includes the campus, also opted to attend the alternate ceremony.

The Observer newspaper reported Thursday that Father Tom Doyle, Notre Dame’s new Vice-President for Student Affairs, had terminated Kirk from his position as Associate Vice-President for Residence Life.

Doyle praised Kirk’s “thoughtful and caring” service as Student Affairs administrator, but said he had been fired “in anticipation of a restructuring that I want to do.”

A Notre Dame spokesman refused to comment to about the reasons behind Kirk’s termination, saying only that the university does not discuss personnel issues.

But Notre Dame philosophy professor David Solomon, the founder and director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, said in a column published in The Rover that he sees a connection between Kirk’s “removal from office” and what he called “the background of other events at Notre Dame that inevitably raised questions about its real motivation.”

Solomon suggested that Kirk’s insistence on maintaining school-wide disciplinary standards for Notre Dame football athletes helped precipitate the move. However, the professor also said the news appears to confirm fears that Kirk’s stand against the highly controversial honor to Obama would prove fatal.

“At the time Bill took part in the NDResponse rally, many people commented on the courage it took for him to stand with his wife and other witnesses to this protest of Notre Dame’s decision to award President Obama an honorary degree. I personally discounted these worries, believing that the Notre Dame administration would admire him for his principled stand on a matter so close to the Catholic heart of Notre Dame, even if they disagreed with his particular action,” wrote Solomon.

Since the administration welcomed Obama’s own “sharp dissent from and attack on central Catholic teaching on life,” he continued, “It seemed only reasonable that they would equally welcome dissent from university policy by such a loyal Catholic and member of the Notre Dame family as Bill Kirk — especially when his dissent was made in the name of the Catholic principles at Notre Dame’s heart and in the company of his bishop.

“Perhaps, alas, there was reason for Bill Kirk to be worried about his participation in NDResponse after all.”

The professor said Kirk’s treatment would undoubtedly have “a chilling effect” on un-tenured administrators in public policy and moral debates on campus. He noted that “a number of other administrators have told me that in light of Bill Kirk’s treatment, they will in the future keep their heads down rather than dissent from the policies of the central administration.” “It will be tragic if these pressures toward uniformity become a permanent feature of Notre Dame life,” he wrote.

Solomon said that what he termed the “callousness and brutal insensitivity” of Kirk’s termination has had “the greatest impact” on the close-knit Notre Dame community: Kirk and his wife Elizabeth, who have already adopted two young children, were in the process of adopting a third at the time of the firing.

The professor contrasted the situation with the magnanimity shown by former Notre Dame President Rev. Ted Hesburgh to Ralph McInerny decades ago when, as an assistant philosophy professor, McInerny received monetary help as he struggled to make ends meet following the tragic death of his 4-year-old son from a brain tumor.

“It may be that in an era when Notre Dame has become more of a brand and less of a community, such actions are no longer possible and that those of us who long for them are simply being naive,” wrote Solomon.

“If so, it is surely a great loss.”

The prestigious Catholic university has been widely criticized for its handling of other aspects of the Obama controversy as well. Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins continues to refuse to request leniency for 88 pro-life witnesses arrested for peacefully protesting Obama’s presence on campus, while pro-Obama and pro-Notre Dame protesters were allowed to roam free. Several pro-life leaders have unsuccessfully urged Jenkins to intervene for the pro-lifers, who continue to face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine under prosecution by St. Joseph County.