Opinions, Column

Christenson: Boston College Is Not a Good School—But It Can Be

As high school seniors across the country scroll through college websites, skim College Confidential forums, and write mostly cliché personal statements, they’re also asking an important question—one I think we should all be asking ourselves right now: 

Is Boston College a good school? 

Well, that depends on what you mean by good.

Is BC academically rigorous? Absolutely. The University employs professors who devote themselves to challenging their students and who use their expertise to make important academic and social contributions in their respective fields. 

Does BC have a nice campus? It’s better than nice—it’s gorgeous. The grass is idyllically green, gargoyles crouch on the corners of grand gothic-style buildings, and nearly floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows cast colorful shadows on students studying in the library. 

Is BC prestigious? It consistently ranks among the top 40 universities in the country. Perhaps more importantly, it certainly feels prestigious walking around on that green grass listening to the Gasson bell ring. 

But is Boston College good? Is it a morally upright institution? If we use the coronavirus response as our measuring stick, the answer is no. 

I’ll leave the never-ending debate of what, exactly, the good-and-moral is to the Perspectives classes, but I propose that a moral approach to this pandemic necessitates the minimization of harm and death. Boston College, thankfully, has not yet faced the demise of a member of our campus community as a result of contracting COVID here. But if we continue down our current path I worry that someone will die—and there will be blame to share. 

Currently, campus exists in pandemonium. We’ve lost any sense of social cohesion, with the administration and students growing ever distant from one another. University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. feels like an abstract idea rather than a real man responsible for this place we call home.

Vice President for Student Affairs Joy Moore and Director of University Health Services Douglas Comeau seem to be spearheading every important aspect of interacting with the student body and trying to hold our community together. Even then, their lengthy emails often feel patronizing and targeted, minimizing student concerns about rising case numbers on campus and suggesting students are entirely responsible for the rise in cases. With an intensity I’ve never seen, students have turned to third parties such as The Boston Globe in a last-ditch effort to have their voices heard. 

Everyone knows things are not going well, and yet no one agrees on how to proceed. Administrators think the main issue is students recklessly socializing without masks. (I’ve passed a disappointing number of groups bound for The Circle or Cityside discussing “maybe hooking up with Foster St. Chad or Abby AirForceOnes tonight, Miss Rona be damned.” I’ve also watched an appalling number of maskless, socially proximate Instagram stories. That said, I’m in no position to hand down judgments. I haven’t followed COVID protocol perfectly since I’ve been here—I’ve hugged when I probably shouldn’t have hugged, pulled at my mask while talking, and stood too close to people. I’m not exempt from blame.) 

Students, for their part, feel as though administrators are more concerned with meeting some bottom line than with our safety and see our lives as expendable. (I’ve been horrified by the stories students have shared about their experiences in isolation and navigating the exposure process, and I myself went weeks between receiving COVID-19 tests.) 

No matter what side you’re on, clearly we have room to improve. 

At the center of all of this rests a deeper problem—a problem that could outlast COVID: We have forgotten that, fundamentally, an institution is just the name we give to a community of people. The problems we talk about as concerning Boston College? These are not the problems of tuition-paying numbers filling seats in classrooms nor are they the problems of some ambiguous Big Brother of an “administration.” These are our problems—yours and mine. The solutions, necessarily, must be our solutions. 

Underlying all of the anger and blame-shifting is the dissonant reality that we at BC purport to want to be good. 

We claim “ever to excel” as our motto. According to the website, these words echo “the Ignatian principle of striving for the ‘greater’ good” and “should color all that we do in a Jesuit university.” 

The pursuit of this “greater good,” the website continues, requires that we “judge [our] studies and [our] goals by the highest standards [we] can imagine.” 

The highest standards we can imagine. 

This is the bar we—students, faculty, staff, and administrators—must set for ourselves and for Boston College. Right now, we fall far short of this goal. Right now, I do not think that BC is good. So, I am asking it—I am asking us—to be better. 

I’m asking for more transparency from the administration and more understanding from the students. I’m asking for fewer false promises, for less finger-pointing, for more accountability. I’m also asking for less hitting the bars and more wearing masks. I’m asking for more tests and attention to student concerns. I’m asking that we wholeheartedly commit to protecting one another and our larger community. I’m asking for us to look past the bottom line and consider the lives at stake. 

Ultimately, I’m asking for BC to excel. Because if we excel, maybe one day we can look back and say that, in our time here, Boston College was a good school. And it was good because of us.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatr

September 29, 2020