Monday, April 6, 2009

The Heights Cartoon- Event Cancelled

Forum replaces Ayers event
By: Matthew DeLuca
Posted: 4/2/09
On Monday, the students who worked to organize the canceled Bill Ayers appearance on campus conducted a forum discussion on academic freedom after a satellite video appearance by Ayers intended to eliminate safety concerns expressed by the administration was not approved by the University.

The organizers said that they wanted the event to be an opportunity for students, faculty, and administrators to talk about the event and why it was canceled. "The point of this event is really to hear from all of you, and we'll get to have a discussion about what happened and academic freedom," Michael Madormo, event organizer and A&S '09, said. He said that the event and the controversy has always been about academic freedom, not about Ayers.

Madormo said that the decision to cancel Ayers reflects on the identity of BC as an institution of higher learning. "This is not about demonizing administrators. This is about who we want to be at Boston College," he said. The organizers had tried to have the event off campus after it was canceled, Madormo said. After they were unable to find a suitable venue, they tried to have an on-campus video conference with Ayers, which was not allowed by administrators, who cited the same security threats. "In lieu of that, we decided to have this event and focus on academic freedom," Madormo said.

Rhick Bose, event organizer and A&S '09, said that there were larger university issues at stake than the singular Ayers event. "The Bill Ayers event is just one stroke of the pen of events that have been canceled over the years." He cited the GLBTQ Leadership Council (GLC) dance canceled in 2006. The University said at that time that the dance was canceled due to a conflict between the event and the University's Catholic values.

"It used to be Jesuit-Catholic issues and values at BC, and now it's about security," Bose said. "They cancel for Jesuit-Catholic doctrine or because of security, or because they just don't like it. We can't allow politics to determine the intellectual discourse here at BC."

Ken Kersch, professor of political science and director of the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy, said that he had agreed to co-sponsor the event before it was canceled, and that he has continued to do so. "I'm mainly here to tell you that I agreed on behalf of the center to co-sponsor this talk," he said. "I vehemently object to the University's decision to cancel it."

Kersch said that when he took control of the center, of which he is the founding director, he was told by the University to present diverse views and host different viewpoints. He said that the center has hosted a variety of noted conservatives and moderate liberals, and that he thought Ayers was appropriate. "When I was asked about this event I said, 'We're ending the year, what about the left?'" Kersch said. "He was here to bring balance and diverse ideas."

Students shared a variety on opinions, both on the original decision to host Ayers on campus, as well as the University's decision to cancel the original on-campus event as well as not to host the video conference.

"As soon as I found out Bill Ayers was coming to campus, it got my blood going a bit," one student said.

"Some people who are attending right now might think this is a referendum on Bill Ayers, but it seemed to me that our facilitators made it fairly clear to me that this is no longer a referendum on Bill Ayers," another said.

A student said that he was angry to think that a group of alumni or Brighton residents had exerted pressure on the University to shut down the event. "What we're really talking about is the quality of our education. I didn't want this education to be dictated by radio hosts, or a certain group of alumni, or the Board of Trustees." He said that students should take stock of their own education after the cancelation of the event and examine why they are at BC.

"I do not like alumni speaking for us just because they have deeper pockets than us," another student said.

The organizers wrote the e-mail addresses of Donald Hafner, vice provost of undergraduate affairs, Karl Bell, assistant dean of student development, Vice President of Student Affairs Patrick Rombalski, and Provost Cutberto Garza on the blackboard, and said that they are people students should contact if they are concerned about speech and speakers on campus.

"My only concern is that I do not feel that random e-mails will be as effective as action," a student said. "Is there anything we can do to harness this energy?"

"We'll coordinate our efforts a bit better," Bose said.

"You have to make it clear to the students who are coming here that freedom of speech really doesn't exist at Boston College," a student said.

Charles Derber, professor of sociology, said that the decision to cancel the event is linked to how the University understands and defines academic freedom, a definition that he said students are not a part of. "They define it as a prerogative of faculty. You are being excluded from the definition of academic freedom by virtue of your status as a student," he said. "Many important student-initiated events have been shut down by the University."

He said, however, that his sense is that much of the faculty, and some administrators, sympathize with the students. "You do have a faculty who really has deep concerns about this issue," Derber said. "If I were a student here, I would make noise about why I am being excluded from academic freedom."

Madormo said that he and the other organizers were pleased with the outcome of the event. "I guess I am overwhelmingly pleased with the event," he said. "I'm ecstatic."

He said that he would have liked to have seen more faculty members present but that time constraints made it difficult to spread the word. He said that the group of organizers intended to continue to raise the issues of free speech and academic freedom expressed at the event. "We are going to be action oriented," he said. © Copyright 2009 The Heights

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