How is academic freedom like Catholicism? Well, if you are a left-wing academic, the answer is obvious: Both can be used like a club on people you don't like.
Consider the current contretemps over Boston College's invitation to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be this year's commencement speaker and receive an honorary degree. Rice, the first black woman to be secretary of state, was a distinguished professor of political science at Stanford University, where she received the top awards for teaching. Later, she was Stanford's provost. Her CV is precisely the sort of thing that makes her a no-brainer to receive an honorary degree and be a commencement speaker. Certainly she is more deserving than such past Boston College honorary-degree recipients as Barbara Bush and Queen Noor of Jordan.
Don't tell that to the faculty at B.C. In a letter distributed by the heads of the Catholic school's theology department and signed by about 200 faculty members, we are informed that, "On the levels of both moral principle and practical moral judgment, Secretary Rice's approach to international affairs is in fundamental conflict with 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." The letter, titled "Condoleezza Rice Does Not Deserve a Boston College Honorary Degree," cherry-picks quotes from Pope John Paul II to argue that Rice's positions should disqualify her as a commencement speaker.
One can respect honest disagreement over the Bush administration's foreign policy. But this high-minded rhetoric is a bit hard to take considering that B.C. is fairly selective about where it will draw such lines. For example, Mary Daly was for decades a distinguished professor at Boston College, despite the fact that she exceeds even the right-wing parody of a left-wing academic. She refused to teach men. Her writings include such relentlessly anti-Catholic manifestos as "The Church and the Second Sex" and "Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation." (Although my favorite title is "Outercourse: The Be-Dazzling Voyage.")
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