In a normal world, university presidents are grateful for their graduates. They invite them back to campus, honor their achievements, and celebrate their accomplishments. University presidents know that the alumni are the most faithful constituency they have, and most avoid doing anything that might offend them. So, why would Patricia McGuire, the President of the Catholic Trinity Washington University, accuse Kellyanne Conway—one of Trinity’s most accomplished graduates—of “spreading a skein of lies” in her work as a senior advisor to President Donald Trump?
In an essay published on February 11, 2017, on the Trinity Washington University website titled “On Lies and the Truths We Must Tell”, McGuire claims:
Presidential Counselor, Kellyanne Conway, Trinity Class of 1989, has played a large role in facilitating the manipulation of facts and encouraging grave injustice being perpetrated by the Trump Administration’s war on immigrants among many other issues…Ms. Conway has been part of a team that thinks nothing of shaping and spreading a skein of lies as a means to secure power.
While many alumni took to the comments box on the school’s website to support McGuire’s essay, several criticized the post—including at least one professed member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur—the founding religious order of Trinity Washington University. Sister Mary Corripio, Trinity, class of ’88, posted that although she has always supported the Trinity president in the past, she was “surprised and disappointed at how harsh you were on Kellyanne.”
Some higher education leaders expressed surprise that a Catholic college president would attack one of their own graduates. Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education told a reporter that because of the importance of alumni to fundraising, “presidents tread very carefully. Losing the support of the alumni is a very bad idea.” The publicly pro-life Conway—this year’s honorary spokeswoman at the March for Life in Washington in January—has been generous in her support for her alma mater, donating more than $50,000.
Alienating donors is not something that college presidents usually do. But, in some ways this story points to the increasing importance of government funding for colleges and universities. Rather than depending solely upon the largesse of grateful alums, McGuire has been successful in parlaying public funds to enhance her campus. Most recently, Trinity Washington University was the recipient of a $15,000,000 tax exempt bond issued by the District of Columbia Revenue Bonds Series for the construction of an academic center.
Understanding the need to choose political sides, President McGuire has been selective in her support for the politically-connected Catholic graduates of her school. Honoring those who have publicly defied Catholic teachings on abortion, marriage and contraception (including abortifacients), President McGuire has awarded accolades to Trinity Washington graduates Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius. Appearing to ignore Pelosi’s 100 percent pro-abortion voting record throughout her long Senate career, Patricia McGuire awarded Pelosi, a member of the class of 1962, an honorary degree. In 2007, McGuire hosted a highly publicized inaugural Mass on the Trinity campus to celebrate Pelosi’s becoming Speaker of the House. Likewise, Kathleen Sebelius, Trinity class of 1970, was given an honorary degree from McGuire in 2003, despite the fact that Sebelius has long shared Pelosi’s commitment to defying the non-negotiable Catholic teachings by expanding rights to abortion (including support for late-term abortion) during her tenure as governor of Kansas. McGuire lauded Sebelius for her role in helping to create and pass the Affordable Care Act—replete with taxpayer funding for abortion, and mandates that required Catholic institutions like Trinity Washington University to provide free insurance coverage for contraception including abortifacients.
In 2007, McGuire invited the Rev. Robert Drinan, S J to celebrate the 2007 inaugural Mass for Pelosi on the Trinity Washington campus. Fr. Drinan, who died later that year, was an elected member of the House of Representatives from 1970 until 1980. Sharing a similar record of supporting abortion rights as Pelosi and Sebelius, Fr. Drinan provided a much imitated model for Catholic politicians who wished to support the fledgling pro-choice movement in the mid-1960s while claiming to be faithful to Catholic moral teaching. In fact, in a well-documented meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass in July, 1964, Fr. Drinan joined with other leading theologians and progressive prelates coached the Catholic Kennedy family and its advisors and allies on how Catholic politicians could accept and promote abortion with a “clear conscience.” One of the attendees, the former Jesuit priest, Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, published an account of the meeting in his book “The Birth of Bioethics (Oxford, 2003).
Throughout his tenure in Congress, Fr. Drinan could be counted on to provide some of the most extreme pro-choice votes—supporting legalized abortion and its public funding, and opposing pro-life initiatives. Yet, President McGuire honored Fr. Drinan—inviting him to celebrate the well-publicized inaugural Mass for Nancy Pelosi on the Trinity Washington campus.
Trinity Washington University can be proud to have many strong, successful and talented graduates. Some of them—like Kellyanne Conway—remain faithful Catholic leaders today. It is unfortunate that President McGuire cannot seem to recognize them equally.