By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Free speech and Boston College

At what point does protest start morphing from free speech into censorship? Folks at Boston College have every right to protest the decision to invite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the commencement speaker. But don’t students have a right to hear from Rice, too?

I particularly like this, from today’s Boston Globe:

“I am a Democrat and I don’t agree with the war, but I have no problem with her coming here,” said Margaret Reed, a senior political science major. “She is the secretary of state, she is an influential person, a black woman who has risen to power, and there is no reason to protest. I am so frustrated by this.”

The editors of BC’s student newspaper, the Heights, don’t seem particularly exercised about Rice’s upcoming appearance. Here’s an excerpt from an editorial:

There is certainly nothing wrong with questioning Rice’s role as speaker for BC — a respectful and intelligent campaign can at least make BC consider these arguments when selecting future speakers and degree recipients.

Further, convincing arguments can be made that Rice is more qualified than most to give a commencement address….

Politics aside, this is a woman with a lot to say about academics, public service, leadership, and the world.

That strikes me as a mature, measured response — something that seems to be missing on the other side.

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  1. Anonymous

    You quote BC editors Further, convincing arguments can be made that Rice is more qualified than most to give a commencement address….Indeed. Agree with her or not, she’s got more academic credentials than the rest of the cabinet combined.I’ve been annoyed at some otherwise reputabatle news services referring to her as “Ms Rice”. The former Provost of Stanford deserves to be called “Dr. Rice”, please. They can plead “house style” but it’s dismissive — her academic street cred is far more relevant to any news story than her gender or marital status.Cheers,Bill R

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Bill –I’m going to plead house style. Whether you’re using the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style or whatever, you don’t use “Dr.” except for physicians. It doesn’t make Rice any less accomplished.

  3. Anonymous

    This hullabaloo is PC pandering at work.If “Dr” Rice were a man and not a minority, with the same trajectory as she has taken within the Cabinet with the same thinking and advice she has dished out, there would be a lot more noise and protest about this from the media and from the student body.One aside to this, if I may, speaking of BC. The other day I was flipping through channels and right there on EWTN, at Midnight there was a program titled…..Get this:”Love a Child”You could not make it up if you wanted to.N.

  4. Anonymous

    Dan, I believe that one of the two professors who circulated the petition about Rice specifically said they don’t object to her *speaking*, but they object to the school conferring an honorary degree on her. Seems to me that’s a different issue, and throwing around inflammatory phrases like “free speech” is off-point.

  5. Don

    What’s so exciting about an honorary college degree? That, and a couple bucks will get you a cup of coffee. (I don’t drink coffee, but I remember when it was 25 cents. I also remember when there was a “cents” symbol on a keyboard, or haven’t I looked hard enough?)

  6. D. R. Tucker

    “It is lamentable that, in the modern university, one can only receive respect by having the right—that is to say, the left—view of foreign and domestic affairs. However, as any member of the Bush Administration can attest, that is the reality…”

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 1:25: You are correct that there are some people who’ve tried to parse the issue that way. But it’s disingenuous. You invite someone to be a commencement speaker, you give that person an honorary degree. No degree, no speaker. We all know how it works. Can you imagine inviting Rice to speak and then telling her, “We think you’re too immoral to receive an honorary degree”? Uh, I don’t think so.

  8. whispers

    Dr. Rice would have been a valid speaker choice before her tenure as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Since then, she’s been asleep at the switch on 9/11, conflated Iraq with Al Qaeda, willingly participated in the “mushroom cloud” hype about WMDs that led to the invasion of Iraq, overseen a disastrous military campaign in Iraq, complete with torture and other human rights’ abuses, lied to Congress a number of times, and generally been the least competent National Security Advisor in memory. Her tenure as Secretary of State has been less disastrous, but the NSA stint would have been hard to equal.But it seems that because she’s a black Republican woman, she’s really not held to account for any of her failures. It’s as if we’re supposed to be grateful that the Republicans have finally allowed black women equal membership in their corrupt, medacious and incompetent power structure. Aside from access to power, what does Dr. Rice have that should impress an audience? You ask for a “mature, measured response”. I think holding Dr. Rice accountable for her actions is certainly more mature than avoiding the issue.

  9. John Galt

    The rub here is multifaceted; the point that C. Rice ought to be “recognized” for her academic achievements such as they are is feeble. She is a mature woman, and anyone who has spent more than five years off the campus no longer can cocoon themselves in that comfy atmosphere.Boston College choice of C.Rice is nothing less than a political statement. In the beanpot of life BC does not cut it.

  10. Rick in Duxbury

    John,Tell that to the kids who apply in increasing numbers. This is THE college town and BC arguably is selling the town’s hottest ticket. Check the latest selectivity rankings. (Harvard will always be TWGU of course). If you knew anything about BC, you would know that the church-related authoritarianism and garden-variety campus liberalism have been at odds there since the 60’s. That Mary Daly had to ban all men from her classes at the formerly all-male school to get fired speaks, I think, to a healthy level of discourse not often found at church-related institutions. No one complained when BC was a DNC boot camp, (my class of ’72 included the children of 3 sitting Democratic congressmen). Now that they have become a national university, don’t be surprised when BC reflects the rest of America, as well as our more parochial local viewpoints, (no pun intended).

  11. Anonymous

    Ditto to Whispers.Looking at the big picture, my guess is that BC is maneuvering to capitalize on its clout and increase its national profile and visibility with this PR move.The Catholic Church has been battered with bad publicity and diminished political influence since the Cardinal Laws and Eagans of the world don’t have nearly the same influence they did to be fixture in political and fundraising/gala circles like before.So BC has been very smart and effective in using its media power and solidifying its presence, especially with its raised national sports profile and the increased celebrity links like the Russert connection or the Carville/BCsports/XM radio connection or the recent celebrity foums and debates.Whatelse can the Catholic Church can do when it openly disagrees with the Admin on the war, immigration, social policies and many other things. This is a subtle and effective way to extend an olive branch and neutralize any anymosity.I think it is a good move if you are BC. It certainly does help to recycle the air and bring opposite poles towards a reconciled center, at least in civil discussions. So, it can’t hurt in that sense. We need more things to bring diff parts of the country ideologically closer , more often and in the same room as much as possible.But personally, I think there is quite a bit of hypocrisy and pandering. IF the Catholic church was at its peak power curve and the Dems were politically in control somewhat, they wouldn’t have extended this invitation and would have been more critical towards Rice.But with the cards they have been dealt, this is how they choose to play it. Love it or hate it!N.

  12. Anonymous

    “You invite someone to be a commencement speaker, you give that person an honorary degree.” You’re right, Dan, but I still think one can distinguish an attempt to “silence” Rice (properly giving rise to complaints about “free speech”) from attempts to prevent BC from honoring her. Since BC packaged those together (as you say, it wouldn’t make sense to have a commencement speaker without giving her an honorary degree), one can be opposed to the package without being opposed to free speech. Labeling everyone opposed to her coming as thought they opposed “free speech” is disengenuous, I would say. BC (or some campus group) could have invited her to speak in some other role than commencement speaker, and some (most?) of the people–at least the faculty–who are up in arms about this would probably have remained quiet.

  13. Specks

    Let’s be honest, honorary degrees aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. This invitation is at best foolish. Rice is steeped in the current politics of fraud and failure, and is laughingstock globally. BC has chosen to equate itself with the depraved indifference to truth that is rife in the present administration. It is insulting.

  14. David

    Dr. Rice is part of an awful, corrupt, oversecretive administration. She should, however, be able to speak at a college, especially since there are people at that college who don’t want her there, and who should listen to what she has to say in order to protest this administration with as much knowledge as they can grab – especially the in-person kind.I don’t like her one bit, but one of the main reasons I don’t like her is her membership in a group that regularly limits free speech. Keeping her from speaking would be hypocritical, to say the least.And I don’t for a minute buy that anyone’s giving her more leniency because she’s a black woman. I don’t for a minute buy the idea that anyone’s doing black women (or women in general, or black people in general) many favors – even the Secretary of State.

  15. Anonymous

    My daughter is graduating from BC and I am attending the graduation ceremonies. I think it is disgraceful that BC is giving Secretary Rice an honorary degree. She is part of an inner circle within this Administration that lied to get us into a war that is not justifiable. The war in Iraq fails the test for a “just war” under clear Catholic teachings and the Catholic catechism. I plan to walk out when she is wrongfully honored.

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