Opinions, Editorials

After 20 Years, Institutional Success, Slow Social Progress

In 1995, former University President Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., stepped down as president after 24 years and was replaced by current University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., who was inaugurated in 1996. The 20 years since have seen Boston College achieve some of its greatest successes, including its ascent to being a nationally recognized research university. On the other hand, students have repeatedly expressed frustration over a perceived silence from the administration on relevant social issues, most recently in the form of the ‘Silence is Violence’ march this year after the vandalization of a parking sign with an anti-gay slur.

An editorial written in The Heights in 1995, before Leahy took office, advised him on the best path forward as he assumed the presidency. Some of the suggestions were: “Make yourself more accessible to students than Father Monan does,” “Build a consensus on the academic life of BC,” and “Confront student life issues head-on.” Looking over the 20 years of Leahy’s administration since the publication of that editorial, as The Heights did in this issue’s “20 Years Later,” shows some remarkable achievements and fulfillment of those goals, while also some ways in which those goals were not met.

Notably, academic goals have been met and surpassed throughout Leahy’s tenure as president. Since 1995, the acceptance rate has decreased from 37 percent to 29 percent and the applicant pool has increased from 16,680 to 29,486. A larger group of high-achieving applicants have been attracted by the improving academic reputation, rising national rank, increased emphasis on research, and better faculty. All of this came as part of Leahy’s efforts to improve and expand the physical campus, grow undergraduate and graduate programs, and widen recruiting efforts. These accomplishments deserve commendation, as they improve the University for all graduates and current students by bringing it into an upper tier of academia.

Leahy deserves credit for the work he has done. Monan created a vision for the future of BC. Leahy made it a reality, and then continued to improve on it through continued successes. This does not mean, however, there have not been areas for improvement. Two of the other points The Heights made in the 1996 editorial have largely remained problems over Leahy’s 20 years as president: inclusivity and administrative silence. Up until 1999, Leahy’s record of student accessibility was relatively good, including roundtable discussions, a letter discouraging racism, and attending a town meeting hosted by student leaders representing the AHANA and LGBTQ communities to condemn a recent act of hate speech. This was not perfect or consistent, but since then there has been less obvious accessibility to the student body. A Heights letter to the editor written in 1999 read, “I would not recognize Fr. Leahy if he walked up to me in the Mods and slapped a beer out of my hand.” The issue has persisted up to now, as the ‘Silence is Violence’ march, the activities of Eradicate Boston College Racism, and the work of Climate Justice at Boston College have all been met with silence from Leahy.

Over these 20 years, diversity has also increased. Faculty of color comprised 11 percent of total faculty in 2000 and currently make up 16 percent. There has also been increased work to improve resources for women and minorities on campus. Currently, over half the student body is made up of women. The founding of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center is a marked improvement, but this by no means demonstrates a complete addressing of the problems. As the campus has grown more diverse, concerns have repeatedly been brought up about inclusiveness at BC and the earlier-mentioned silence remains an issue on these concerns. Further communication with the student body about future plans and the ways in which diversity and inclusion issues will be a part of the strategic plan should be a priority in order to reconcile the issue of administrative silence and directly address student life issues, as was brought up in the editorial 20 years ago.

Leahy’s work toward building the University has been invaluable, but that long-term building has neglected the short-term needs of students. Leahy has prioritized growth over immediate responses to his students. In the long run, this is to the benefit of the University. Yet,  his job ought to also include becoming a more accessible figure to students who feel as though he should be a role model. Going forward, Leahy and the Office of the President need to consider whether his hands-off approach to student problems is to the benefit of the majority.

Featured Image by Kevin P. Breen / Heights Archives

November 13, 2016