Tag Archives: Boston

John Silber, R.I.P.

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John
Silber was not a humble man. In 1996, when he moved up from the presidency of
Boston University to the chancellorship, he likened his successor to Joshua and
himself to Moses, the only man, according to the Hebrew Bible, who saw God face
to face.

Today
it’s hard to image a college or university president mattering the way Dr.
Silber did then, to many within and without academia. Teresa Sullivan’s ouster
and reinstatement at the University of Virginia grabbed national attention, but
no one claims her leadership is greatly good or bad. Now as in the past, most
presidents exist to cast a glow of learning over mundane activities such as
placating faculty, blessing five-year plans, and, above all, raising money.

When
I worked for him, with the comical title of “Special Assistant for Covert
Operations,” Dr. Silber described himself in his Texan growl as zookeeper to some
of the most rambunctious critters on earth. But far from a mere caretaker, Silber
took a stand–often athwart history–for the sake of excellence. He offers an
example of how an elitist can actually thrive within a democracy.

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The Death of a Radical

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The death of feminist philosopher, theologian and former Boston College professor Mary Daly earlier this month at the age of 81 received fairly little notice in the media. What attention Daly did receive, however, was almost entirely of the positive kind. Time magazine ran a short obituary by fellow radical feminist Robin Morgan, who eulogized Daly as “a fierce intellectual, an intrepid scholar, a wicked wit and an uncompromising radical” as well as “a central figure in contemporary feminist thought.” A Boston Globe editorial called Daly “a fighter” as well as “a vital figure in feminism and in the recent history of Catholicism in America,” while acknowledging that her radicalism was at times excessive.

Trained as a Roman Catholic theologian, Daly eventually became a self-proclaimed ‘post-Christian’ whose vitriolic anti-Catholicism went far beyond liberal demands for reform. She wrote, notably, that ‘a woman’s asking for equality in the church would be comparable to a black person’s demanding equality in the Ku Klux Klan.’ She continued, nonetheless, to teach at Catholic Boston College for more than 30 years, despite openly deriding that school as ‘a laboratory for patriarchal tricks.’

Daly’s most notorious moment came in 1999, when she became embroiled in a controversy about her policy of barring men from her “Introduction to Feminist Ethics” course. A Boston College senior, Duane Naquin, complained. Since Daly’s practices were a clear violation of one of the feminists’ favorite laws, Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments – which forbids educational institutions that benefit from any federal funds to discriminate on the basis of gender, except for single-sex schools – the college ordered her to admit Naquin into the class. Daly discontinued the class instead. After a prolonged squabble, she either she either resigned (according to the college) or was kicked out (according to her).

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Who Should Speak At Catholic Colleges?

The overwhelming majority of American catholic colleges won’t be honoring public figures that flout church teaching at this year’s commencement exercises, according to the Cardinal Newman Society, the conservative Catholic watchdog group. Of the hundreds of men and women who will be awarded honorary degrees by the nation’s 225 Catholic universities this month, the Society labels only 6 as dissenters on key moral issues (abortion, as always, seems to be the biggie), down from 24 in 2006 and 13 in 2007, according to the Boston Globe.

As the Globe’s Michael Paulson points out, pro-choice catholic politicians are the most obvious snubs. Rudy Giuliani, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy, all regulars on the commencement speaker circuit, will not be addressing a catholic college’s graduating class this year.

Many catholic schools, particularly the smaller, more conservative institutions, seem to have genuinely taken to heart the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops advice from 2004 that “the Catholic community and the institutions which are a part of our family of faith should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles.”

For schools like Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Boston College, which have large, politically diverse student bodies and faculties, as well as the prestige to lure big names if they want to, the move away from politicians as speakers may also be borne at least in part from a desire to avoid partisan rancor that detracts from the communal nature of commencement. Boston College, in particular, has drawn ire from all directions over its choice in partisan honorees in the past. Extending invitations to socially liberal honorees like Warren B. Rudman (1992) and Janet Reno (1997) has been panned by more conservative voices within the church, while attempts to honor Bush administration officials like Condoleezza Rice (2006) and Michael Mukasey (Law School, 2008) have angered pacifist Jesuits on campus and the more left-leaning lay faculty. It’s not surprising that this year the school opted for the very non-controversial historian David McCullough.

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Excerpt: “Beet” – A Satiric Look At An Awful College

By Roger Rosenblatt
(Harper Collins, $23.95)

“Don’t bother to come home if you still have a job,” Livi Porterfield called to her husband as he shoved their two groggy children into the 243,000-miles-and-still-rattling Accord, to drive them to school. He blew her a kiss.

The job she referred to was on the faculty of Beet College, forty miles north of Boston, where eighteen-hundred hand-picked, neurotically competitive undergraduates were joined with one-hundred-and-forty-one hand-picked, neurotically competitive professors to instruct them. Beet was a typical small New England college, fortified with brick and crawling with ivy and self-adoration – the sort of place people call charming when they mean sterile.

There Peace Porterfield, the youngest full professor in the school’s history, taught English and American literature – which is ordinarily enough to mark a person for disaster. If that didn’t do the trick, he also believed in what he did, being committed to an academic discipline said to have exhausted both its material and its usefulness, and patronized by institutions of higher learning like a doddering tenant no longer able to come up with the rent. And if those things didn’t do him in, he believed in the value of a liberal arts education, and in colleges in general, from whose sacred waters, he further believed, civilization flowed. Need one glaze the duck? He believed in civilization…

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