Second Annual Publius Writing Prize Winners Announced

Author: Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government

Publius Prize 2023 Winners Joe Dereuil And Merlot Shorey Headshots

Last year, the Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government announced the establishment of a new annual award, the Publius Prize for Undergraduate Writing on Public Affairs. 

In the prize's second year, students were encouraged to submit pieces published in the past year, so long as their article or essay fit the prize description of “refine[ing] and enlarg[ing] the public views” (The Federalist, 10). Essays were submitted by students across the campus community, covering topics as wide ranging as affirmative action in college admissions, religious pluralism, and college football. We received submissions from authors across multiple grade levels, and we are grateful to all who submitted their writing for review. 

After a difficult selection process, the CCCG is proud to announce our two winners. 

In the on-campus publication category, the winner is Merlot Fogarty '24 for her article "Keeping du Lac," which was published in The Irish Rover on November 2, 2022. Miss Fogarty's piece features original reporting, and she spoke with dozens of Notre Dame undergraduates to understand how students perceive the university's policy on premarital sex. As such, Miss Fogarty's article is a valuable assessment of the university's student culture. 

In the national publication category, W. Joseph DeReuil '24 is the winner for his essay "The Privatization of the Truth," which was published in First Things on August 4, 2022. Mr. DeReuil's piece offers a critique of the contemporary ethos of education, which favors an elective-based model rather than the traditional systematic engagement with the canon. Mr. DeReuil writes: 

“Core curricula,” where they exist, are perhaps modernity’s final remnant of formative education. Every time a university determines that all students must take a particular class, the school is claiming that, regardless of what students think is good for them, it will in fact be good for them to take the mandated course. The educational system still maintains some objective views of goodness. If the privatization of the truth can be reversed, perhaps so too can the larger, societal rejection of objective, normative moral claims.

Each author will receive a $250 prize, and their essays are copied below. 

We also are proud to announce the runner-ups in the on-campus category, deserving honorable mention.

  • "Interfaith Confusion," written by Nico Schmitz '24 and published in The Irish Rover on February 1, 2023. Mr. Schmitz provides a valuable assessment of the nuances of religious pluralism and Notre Dame's Catholic identity. "Notre Dame ought to serve as the model of participating in inter-religious dialogue while never compromising on the truth that Catholicism is the only complete expression of divine revelation," Mr. Schmitz writes. 
  • "The Attack on Language," written by Elizabeth Hale '25 and published in The Irish Rover on September 28, 2022. Miss Hale surveys academic and journalistic speech codes on campus. She conducted original reporting and sought the perspectives of multiple sources to provide a holistic presentation of constraints on speech. 
  • "Why Doesn't Rice Play Texas?" written by Luke Thompson '24 and published in The Irish Rover on September 28, 2022. Mr. Thompson artfully uses a mid-century speech by President John F. Kennedy to critique the anti-localist ethos of recent college football conference realignment. "The way that college football has developed deep ties between communities— through the form of heated but ultimately friendly rivalries—and built up the internal unity of those same communities throughout its history proves that it can do more than just provide base entertainment," writes Mr. Thompson.

The call for next year's Publius Prize will commence in the Spring of 2024.

Keeping du Lac

Investigating the university's approach to sexual conduct

Merlot Fogarty, The Irish Rover

The University of Notre Dame’s policy on sex is summarized succinctly in Du Lac, Notre Dame’s guide to student life and standards of conduct: “The University embraces the Catholic Church’s teaching that a genuine and complete expression of love through sex requires a commitment to a total living and sharing together of two persons in marriage. Consequently, students who engage in sexual union outside of marriage may be subject to referral to the University Conduct Process.” 

Notre Dame purports to be a leader in forming its students in the Catholic intellectual tradition. The first of its five institutional goals is to “ensure that our Catholic character informs all our endeavors,” its mission statement includes a dedication “to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.” The Rover talked to students outside of LaFortune Student Center to get a clearer picture of how well the Catholic sexual ethic is taught to the student body. 

Many students expressed confusion when reading the policy: “It just happens so often that I’m kind of surprised,” one senior said, attributing his lack of awareness to the fact that the policy isn’t enforced. “I think back to my freshman year, and my roommate and his girlfriend would sleep together 2–3 times a week,” he recalled. Other students conveyed discontent with the policy, “even idealistically it’s not something that should be enforced by an institution. Not all that is immoral ought to be treated as if it were illegal,” said a sophomore from Siegfried. 

“Honestly, I don’t think it’s really stopping anything … the fact that we have [the policy] does not say that it’s not going to happen, it just says that people are going to be more secretive about it. And unfortunately with the university taking this stance, there are less ‘safe sex’ options,” argued a freshman. 

A junior from O’Neill who “personally [is] not a religious person at all” but “likes how chill Notre Dame is about people not being Catholic” had heard about the “sex policy” before speaking with me. He called the policy “meaningless,” and merely an attempt by the administration to show its “target audience” that they are “good Catholic people.” 

Many students “assumed” there was a rule such as this, but they had no idea the University provided free STD and pregnancy testing, mandated by Title IX laws, or provided support to pregnant and parenting students. Likewise, they failed to recognize any instance in which Notre Dame supported its policy through instruction on the Catholic understanding of sex and procreation. 

In an interview with the Rover, Dr. Abigail Favale, expert on the Catholic perspective of women and gender and recent hire at the McGrath Institute for Church Life, said, “Students at a Catholic institution should be exposed to the ‘why’ of Catholic sexual teaching—not so they can be indoctrinated, but so they can encounter a different way of seeing sexuality and the human person than what is offered in the broader culture. Most people assume they know what the Church teaches, but I’m guessing few know why she teaches it.”

While most students strongly disagreed with punishing those who are having sex on campus, a majority supported implementing at least some part of the Church’s teaching into the curriculum to instruct students on why Notre Dame has such a rule. Many were confused why Notre Dame has a policy that isn’t backed up with any positive action from the university. 

Junior Dane Sherman observed: “I think there is something fundamentally broken with how young people are sexually relating with one another right now … A lot of young folks are having sex to feel connected to others and to try to form intimacy, but a lot of times that isn’t the something that is satisfying that deep hunger for intimacy.” 

Senior Emily Major spoke similarly: “There are plenty of people on campus who are Catholic and still have sex. I think the problem that we’re facing here on campus … [is] a lack of understanding of what sex really is.”

Currently enrolled in Professor Tim O’Malley’s "Nuptial Mystery" theology course, Major recalled their discussions: “Consent isn’t enough. If you are going to engage in the sexual act, something so intimate, then a recognition and honoring of the whole person is required, not just a distillation of the person to a sexual being.” 

Professor O’Malley’s syllabus covers topics which he believes “most address [the students’] existence.” Asking questions like: “What is the nuptial bond? What is consent? How does the mundane quality of family life sanctify the cosmos?” O’Malley sets students, “who accept and those who vehemently reject ecclesial teaching” into dialogue with one another. 

Another freshman currently enrolled in the Moreau First Year Experience noted that the university’s only official discussion of the topic, which occurs in this class, focuses exclusively on consent. “It’s the lowest bar that people should be able to reach … it’s not enough,” he said. 

O’Malley told the Rover, “Consent unto itself is insufficient. It’s a legal term. There has to be a positive proposal about the nature of human relationships. As a Catholic university, we can admit that we are created in the image and likeness of God … At Notre Dame, we can propose a way of communion relative to human sexuality that is distinct from our peer institutions.”

As one student said, “it’s the university’s duty to educate people on the fullness of what she teaches. The university’s whole aim is the formation of its students—not just their minds, but also their hearts—in the Catholic tradition. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the Catholic tradition—that we have this full picture of what it is to be human, what it is to be a sexual being.”

Catholic theology offers a rationale for its rules and doctrine, a rationale according to Favale, that is “profoundly beautiful and affirming” of the dignity of our personhood. As pointed out by some of the most prominent names at Notre Dame, without challenging hook-up culture, without instruction on the profound beauty of marriage, and without a deeper understanding of the nature of sexual relations, students are unaware of the ‘why’ behind the rules and policies. The common good promoted by the university fails to be practiced. 

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death” (¶2361).

Notre Dame’s Catholic identity requires adherence to these words of the Catechism—both in policy and in the formation of hearts and minds on campus. As students and faculty revealed, reforming sexual education at a Catholic university does not require embracing modern sexual practices, but rather, cultivating an understanding among its students of the truth behind Catholic teaching, the dignity of the whole human person, and what it means to truly love another human being.

The Privatization of the Truth

W. Joseph DeReuil, First Things

In his 1989 essay, “The Privatization of the Good,” Alasdair MacIntyre writes that a liberal society's failure to endorse a common vision of the good ends up dismantling any shared moral ground in that society. Liberal society does not seek to orient its citizens to the good; instead, it tries to create space for individuals to pursue their own visions of the good. But coherent moral claims in law, MacIntyre argues, require a comprehensive system of morality endorsed by the political community: “Insofar as it is this liberal view which has been embodied in social practice in contemporary advanced societies, the good has been privatized.” 

Something similar is happening in the university. In the wake of our society’s privatization of the good, liberal education is declining. Modern liberal education is no longer oriented to the formation of moral and intellectual character but to the acquisition of particular skills. Liberal universities open countless new specialized departments while eliminating core requirements and rigorous curricula. Schools largely allow their students the “freedom” to confine themselves to their preferred areas of study. Not every school has adopted Brown University’s requirement-free “Open Curriculum,” but the trend is to allow students to choose more and more of their own classes. As a common vision of liberal education is dismantled, truth becomes privatized. This expansive freedom of choice—the ability to direct one’s own ends—maps perfectly onto the ideals of liberalism. The rejection of comprehensive curricula follows the abandonment of explicitly normative laws and the public promotion of traditional morality. 

The traditional telos of society is the common good. As MacIntyre observes, any transcendent notion of the common good is lost in a liberal society. Instead, men pursue their own private goods until they no longer even speak with a shared moral vocabulary. Just like liberal society, the new compartmentalized, specialized education no longer seeks to orient students toward its traditional telos, the truth. Instead, it allows individuals space to pursue their own conception or aspect of what the truth is, focusing on fostering “academic excellence” and “global competitiveness.” Now each student, like each citizen, can choose his own telos.

Historically, “liberal” education meant quite the opposite of expansive autonomy for the student. Rather, each student was subjected to a comprehensive program of study, such as the famed classical curriculum at Columbia University (which has also been reduced in recent years). Through learning the great tradition and the wisdom of one’s predecessors—seeing the different ways in which human society has pursued truth, beauty, and goodness—students gain perspective on the present world and can view current times within a broader context. A liberal education is restrictive in content, but it is designed to free the mind—to provide the student with the tools necessary to apprehend and pursue the good. 

Thus, to the man who is truly liberally educated, the modern student's expansive choices do not represent new blessings of liberty. Instead, the expansion of choice leads to more confusion. 

As a current student at the University of Notre Dame, I am in the midst of receiving an allegedly “elite” liberal education—one of the best our society has to offer. But if that latter statement is true, as I believe it to be, this reflects poorly on the state of education in America more than it does well upon Notre Dame. Students at Notre Dame still must take two theology classes and one philosophy class, along with several other “core requirements.” But beyond these requirements, students are left with much leeway as to what specific courses they take and when they take them.

Thus, one will study Descartes in a room full of students who have never encountered the Aristotelian framework he is trying to deconstruct. Similarly, students can read how Kant grapples with the perceived moral problems presented by “new natural science” without ever taking a class on evolution or Newtonian physics. Regardless of whether Descartes’s deconstruction is successful or whether Kant’s philosophy is necessary to preserve objective morality, it is indisputable that students will not sufficiently engage with either thinker without a thoughtfully ordered, comprehensive core curriculum. Such a curriculum would teach these thinkers’ context and underlying premises before handing a student Meditations on First Philosophy or The Critique of Pure Reason.

The elimination of a structured curriculum allows students more choices. But as a consequence, no student can choose to study the liberal arts sequentially, with a cohort of students who will take classes in a logical sequence alongside them. By dropping core requirements, universities are choosing license over formation.

“Core curricula,” where they exist, are perhaps modernity’s final remnant of formative education. Every time a university determines that all students must take a particular class, the school is claiming that, regardless of what students think is good for them, it will in fact be good for them to take the mandated course. The educational system still maintains some objective views of goodness. If the privatization of the truth can be reversed, perhaps so too can the larger, societal rejection of objective, normative moral claims.

But without dramatic change, liberal politics’ rejection of “oughts” will continue to overtake education. And the privatization of truth will prevent anyone from substantially contradicting or expounding upon the opinions of another. Liberty and license will be united in public law and private formation: each citizen can pursue his own good and learn his own truth. The privatization of the truth is one more break between man and the eternal order, leaving him ever more vulnerable to the buffets of his temporal superiors.