President Reagan has rejected a proposal from some advisers that he give a major foreign policy speech when he addresses the 136th Notre Dame commencement on Sunday.
A senior White House official said Reagan wants his speech to stress "American values for a graduating class" rather than focus on foreign policy. White House chief of staff James A. Baker III last week called Notre Dame "the wrong forum" for a foreign policy address.
Reagan's trip to South Bend, Ind., will be his first outside Washington since he was shot by a would-be assassin on March 30. The White House is anticipating a protest of significant size Sunday, dealing with several issues but focusing on administration policy in El Salvador.
An editorial last week in the National Catholic Reporter said it was "disheartening" that Reagan had been singled out by Notre Dame to receive an honorary degree. The editorial criticized the president for "taking billions of dollars from human support programs and giving those billions -- and more -- to military support programs."
One tactic of those opposing the Reagan degree may be to walk when he delivers the commencement address.
President Carter used Notre Dame as a forum for a foreign policy speech May 22, 1977. In that address he proclaimed that "we are now free of the inordinate fear of communism which once led us to embrace any dictator who joined us in that fear."
Reagan has been critical of this remark on several occasions, particularly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Reagan's speech at Notre Dame is the first he will give since his inauguration without the services of former chief speechwriter Ken Khachigian, who has returned to his consulting business in California. A draft of this speech was prepared by Anthony Dolan, and the president, as usual, made several changes.
Reagan will be the fifth incumbent president to receive an honorary degree from Notre Dame. The others were Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Reagan has said he will always be fond of Notre Dame because he played the legendary football player George Gipp in a 1940 movie, "Knute Rockne -- All-American," which was filmed on the campus. It was Reagan's first widely acclaimed role.
After his election, Reagan responded to a congratulatory telegram from Notre Dame President Theodore M. Hesburgh with a letter that said, "Playing the 'Gipper' was a turning point in my career. He and Notre Dame have a very secure place in my heart."
The editorial in the National Catholic Reporter took Hesburgh and Reagan to task for this, saying that "the focus of attention will be on Reagan the Gipper" while important issues are pushed aside.
For Reagan, Sunday's speech marks a return to the kind of political activity in which he was engagged before the shooting. He is to travel to California next weekend, and plans to address the May 27 commencement at West Point, N.Y., where he is expected to emphasize national defense.
Reagan plans another California trip and additional political speeches in June.