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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

Condoleezza Rice gets mixed support at Boston College

The Heights (U-WIRE)

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Should Condoleezza Rice receive an honorary degree from Boston College?

Reaction to the announcement that Rice would be the 2006 commencement speaker and receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree has sparked a vibrant debate on just that question.

The debate started with a letter from BC professors Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J., and Kenneth Himes of the theology department sent to all faculty seeking support for their assertion that the decision goes contrary to “Boston College’s commitment to the values of the Catholic and Jesuit traditions and is inconsistent with the humanistic values that inspire the University’s work.”

Their argument rested primarily on Rice’s role in planning the Iraq war, which was undertaken before she was secretary of state (Rice was National Security Advisor at the time) and the seeming divide between statements she had made and statements from the Vatican

Other faculty and students have questioned the validity of this argument. Rev. Paul McNellis, S.J., said that after reading the article from the journal Foreign Affairs to which Hollenbach and Himes refer, McNellis believes the article was “not at odds with Catholic moral teaching.”

“As Catholics, we must be concerned with international and national common good and people must be involved in politics as a profession. The church doesn’t have an official teaching on Iraq or the U.N. where people of good will can legitimately disagree on the right action in a concrete situation,” he said.

“War is never a good thing. But why the war in Iraq is a grievous sin, and not a difficult policy undertaken for what it and many consider good reasons, has not been proved,” said political science professor Dennis Hale. “She’s a person of great accomplishments, intelligence, and seriousness, and in that sense it’s an honor [to have her speak]. This is a great catch for BC.”

The controversy for those upset about Rice’s selection has centered on the awarding of the symbolic honorary degree more so than on her selection as commencement speaker. It is common practice for BC and all other universities to award an honorary degree to its speaker.

“I’m really against the honorary degree part of it more on a humanitarian ground,” said Maurya Couvares, A&S ’06. “But I think it is a great way for BC students to be exposed to the issue, so I think her presence is something that is very good for the school.”

Several faculty and students have also expressed concern, along the vein of the letter from Hollenbach and Himes, about Rice’s politics and the Iraq war.

“Inviting [Rice] to campus is a perfectly appropriate thing to do and I have no issue with that whatsoever and think that’s important,” said sociology professor Juliet Schor about the choice of Rice as speaker. “But presenting her with an honorary degree is another thing, because that’s a statement of values and the University wanting to honor her for what she’s doing.”

She found objection with the choice for what she called the “politicization” of the commencement ceremony and that she felt the University should not honor someone who “has been a major architect of an immoral war.”

Student concern, though generally positive, has met with mixed reaction as well.

“I think prestige is important [when picking a speaker], but I’m just disappointed that they had to pick such a political and controversial figure,” said Tony Coppola, A&S ’06, who was against the choice. “If a lot of seniors are uncomfortable with this, we should at least make our point.”

“I feel that Secretary Rice, because of her life story and accomplishments, is an excellent choice for commencement speaker,” said Brian Keller, A&S ’06. “Regardless of whether you agree with her politics or not, Secretary Rice should be afforded the respect that a woman of her stature deserves.”

The common theme threading proponents and detractors of the choice is the desire to make the commencement about the seniors, rather than any political demonstration.

“It really is a day of celebration and we should be aware of our objections now, early on, but we should reserve the day of commencement to celebrate ourselves and what we know to be good in this world,” said Brendan Ruddy, A&S ’06, who said he was personally against having Rice as the choice. “The day of it is hopefully going to be a joyous celebration.”

The situation is not a unique one for BC.

In 1995, an attempt to give an award to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher drew intense ire from some Irish faculty, donors, and trustees who felt she handled the Northern Ireland conflict poorly. Thatcher eventually declined BC’s offer to receive the medal.

Students both in support of and against Rice’s selection have initiated competing petitions online. Those against Rice have also scheduled a rally for Monday in O’Neill Plaza.

What action, if any, will be taken — other than the letters and petitions that have been signed — is unclear.

But all students and faculty have expressed a desire to have the commencement be a joyous celebration.

“I feel bad for the parents and kids who think graduation is going to be a day of disruption rather than one of congratulations,” said Rev. Don McMillan, S.J.