Student guide revised to allow scrutiny of events' content
Policy mandates balanced panels
Published: Monday, October 16, 2006
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
Boston College is a private institution founded to further the goals embodied in the Jesuit tradition of higher education. An essential element in the Jesuit tradition is an emphasis on the search for truth in an academic community.
Since the search commands that the freedom of inquiry be protected, the free exchange of ideas is a principal objective of the University. Since the search for truth demands freedom of inquiry, the free exchange of ideas is a principal value of the University. Such freedom of inquiry is, however, not absolute and must be balanced by the University's obligation to adhere to the principals and values inherent in Boston College's identity as a Catholic and Jesuit institution.
To maintain an environment in which such freedoms can thrive, while at the same time being sensitive to and respectful of the Catholic heritage of the institution, the University administration reserves the right to review presentations funded by student activity monies. Such a review could result in necessary adjustments to require that balanced views be presented, postponement of the program for further discussion and review, or, in rare instances, cancellation of the program. In addition, in cases where the University may not be able to assure the adequate safety of either the University community or an invited speaker, Boston College reserves the right to reschedule or relocate the presentation or, in rare instances, to cancel the event.
Additions in bold Deletions crossed out
The new policy, which can be found on the ODSD Web site, states that "the free exchange of ideas is a principal value of the University," but a new passage in this year's guide says that "such freedom of inquiry is, however, not absolute and must be balanced by the University's obligation to adhere to the principals and values inherent in Boston College's identity as a Catholic and Jesuit institution."
"What we're trying to do is have clear guidelines and reminders that this is a Catholic and Jesuit University," said Dean for Student Development Robert Sherwood.
The policy represents another case of the Universities' recent progression toward emphasizing balance in sponsored events. For instance, an abortion rights advocate who represents a stance contrary to Catholic teaching would potentially need to be contrasted by an anti-abortion advocate.
"The provision on 'balanced views' suggests that we don't quite trust the intellectual capabilities of our students when we leave them to their own devices," said political science professor Jennie Purnell. "Based on my own experience as a faculty member, I believe that students are fully capable of realizing when they are hearing a one-sided presentation and of evaluating the merits of any particular argument."
John Hellman, vice-president of the GLBT Leadership Council (GLC) and A&S '07, said he saw a double standard in events that present a viewpoint consistent with Catholic teaching, but that did not present balanced views - such as the lecture by Michael Behe, a supporter of the intelligent design theory."We have to present both sides and go do the extra work to present both views," he said regarding GLC sponsored events. "Other groups on campus have the luxury to just go about planning their events."
The revision of the policy is meant to clarify the University's position on dealing with events that run counter to the Catholic-Jesuit teachings. Uncertainties in the policy, as it read last year, contributed to several controversies, particularly involving the sponsorship of events by the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a group that advocates abortion rights and women's health issues. A panel on women's rights in light of Samuel Alito's appointment to the Supreme Court was originally cancelled because WHI, which is not recognized by the University because of its stance on abortion, could not sponsor events as an unrecognized student group.
The restriction was circumvented when the sociology department stepped in to sponsor the event, prompting Jack Dunn, University spokesman, to say at the time: "The University will review the sponsorship of all future events."
"We don't want to be involved in a perpetual tug-of-war with the administration," said Katherine Adam, a member of the WHI and A&S '07. "We'd like to work with them and not hide things from them. We're not trying to change policy, we just want to promote free speech and dialogue about reproductive rights issues.
The policy only specifically addresses speakers or events that are paid for with University money - namely, the student activities fee that funds many UGBC programs and other programs. Sherwood said even if University money was not used, however, "the expectations are the same in adherence to Jesuit values."
"It seems the new policy is intentionally vague in order to allow it to be selectively applied to specific, marginalized groups on this campus, such as GLBT groups, or supporters of abortion rights," said Nick Salter, member of the Global Justice Project (GJP) and A&S '07. "For example, I highly doubt that the University will equally apply this policy to supporters of the Iraq War, such as Sen. John McCain, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or weapons manufactures. It is the subjective nature of this policy that makes it especially outrageous."
At other Catholic and Jesuit Universities, the policy on bringing speakers varies. At Notre Dame, "students and student organizations are free to examine and to discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately. Notre Dame students may invite and hear any person of their own choosing," according to its policy. It also makes no reference to the school's Catholic heritage, or to potential limitations on speakers based on that heritage.