Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mukasey Controversy at BC Law

The law school at Boston College, my old university, plans to have the attorney general speak at commencement ceremonies in May. What might have been a prestigious event has turned controversial. Students, faculty and alumni have banded together to draft a letter asking AG Michael Mukasey to reconsider his attendance.

At his confirmation hearings last year, Mukasey's position was that he did not believe water-boarding constituted torture, and would not prosecute those that authorized or implemented the practice against terror suspects.

The group believes that his position leaves him at odds with the University's Jesuit commitment to human rights.

Mukasey will not receive the law school's highest honor, the Founder's Medal, although Dean John Garvey said that decision predated the controversy. The Founder's Medal is given to those who "embody the traditions of professionalism, scholarship, and service which the Law School seeks to instill in its students."

This is similar to the uproar that surrounded Condoleezza Rice's commencement address to the undergraduate class of 2006 (of which SAM blogger CPC is a member). Many students turned their backs, and one professor even resigned.

As a donor to the university (I gave $15 just before graduating), my take is that, based on the criteria, Mukasey probably doesn't deserve the Founder's Medal, but the protest itself goes against the Jesuit principles of reflection and open discussion as much as Mukasey's position.

Debate on serious legal issues is what higher education is all about. As Garvey put it:

"It is a mark of prestige among elite schools to attract a speaker who operates at the epicenter of American legal issues, regardless of whether the speaker's political views are liberal, moderate, or conservative... Far from wishing the controversy would go away, I think we should rejoice in it."

1 comment:

JSas said...

Your position, that Mukasey should be allowed to speak but should not be given the award, is similar to arguments made by some faculty over the Rice controversy, that she should be allowed to speak but denied the honorary doctorate in law.

I think this is the argument on strongest footing by the opponents, and to an extent I agree, for I do believe that the Bush Administration's policies are (on many occasions) contrary to Jesuit ideals.

Yet I cannot get over the feeling that both Mukasey and Rice deserve an honorary award. Mukasey is an attorney general of the United States, the highest legal profession one can attain in the United States, and he has served the community by pursuing a career in public service. BC is denying (or would deny) Rice and Mukasey awards strictly on ideological grounds. The message is "conservatives are unwelcome." As a conservative, the message that whatever I accomplish in my career will not be well received by my alma mater is not a comforting thought.