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BC seeks a balance in airing of views

Boston College is giving its administrators the right to reject student-recruited speakers if their views or opinions conflict with the school's Catholic and Jesuit identity and another speaker to offer the Catholic viewpoint cannot be found.

The policy change in the student guidebook underscores the challenge facing BC as it seeks to maintain a Catholic identity even as it attracts a more diverse student body from across the nation. The move has angered some faculty and students who say the policy threatens free speech on campus.

The change was made months after the school sought to cancel a panel discussion on abortion that it said failed to include the anti abortion viewpoint. The new policy, school officials say, will address such situations.

It will permit the dean of students, in consultation with other administrators, to review student-sponsored speaker presentations. If the presentation includes a speaker who holds views contrary to Catholic teaching, administrators can require the inclusion of a speaker with an opposing viewpoint.

If that is not possible, administrators may cancel an event.

The language of the policy, prior to the change, included no limitations imposed by Catholic or Jesuit teachings, saying , ``the free exchange of ideas is a principal objective of the University." It now reads that freedom of inquiry ``must be balanced by the University's obligation to adhere to the principles and values inherent in Boston College's identity as a Catholic and Jesuit institution."

``The university is saying that it has the right to request that a balanced perspective be presented on fundamental issues of church teachings," said Jack Dunn , the school spokesman. ``The goal is not to censor or cancel an event, but to ensure a balanced perspective on critical issues, such as abortion."

Dunn stressed that cancellations are expected to be rare and noted that the policy applies only to student groups that receive university funds and does apply not to faculty.

Some faculty and students said the policy was too restrictive and unfairly handed oversight to a few administrators without a course of appeal.

``This could be seen as an ongoing effort to limit free speech on campus and it needs to be reversed," said Charles Derber , a sociology professor.

Derber last year sponsored the abortion panel so the event could go forward even after the university had canceled it. He called on the university to hold a campus wide discussion of the policy change.

Pat Healey , the president of College Democrats of Boston College, said the university's move would discourage student groups from bringing controversial speakers to campus. He said the policy was not necessary because students are capable of hearing one side of a debate and forming an opinion.

``The student body is intelligent enough to decide which viewpoint is right and wrong," Healey said.

Brad Easterbrooks , vice president of College Republicans of Boston College, applauded the policy and said that it codified a long standing practice that was fitting for a Jesuit institution.

``They are saying that if you are using Boston College dollars, they don't want a one-sided, anti-Catholic event," said Easterbrooks.

BC's new policy differs from the approach at Georgetown University, another Jesuit school, which makes no reference to Catholic tenets or principles in policies on campus speakers, said Erik Smulson , a school spokesman.

The University of Notre Dame, another Catholic school , by contrast, recently changed its speaker policy to one similar to BC's. Dennis Brown, a school spokesman, said that if a speaker's view runs counter to Catholic doctrine, then the school will call for a presentation at the event, or soon afterward, from the Catholic viewpoint.

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at

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