Mounting Pressure for Garvey on the Mukasey Invitation
By Jesse Stellato
Febuary 27, 2008
NEWTON, MA — An open letter to law school dean John Garvey from James C. Sturdevant ‘72 is the most recent sign that pressure is mounting on the Garvey administration to respond publicly to an increasingly vocal number of students, faculty and alumni who oppose the invitation of Attorney General Michael Mukasey to speak at the Boston College Law School 2008 commencement ceremony.
On January 23, the administration announced that Mukasey had been chosen to speak at commencement, to be held on May 23. “It is a singular honor for Boston College to have the Attorney General of the United States as our commencement speaker,” said BC Law Dean John Garvey. “I cannot imagine a better role model for the Class of 2008,” he continued in a written statement.
Though students’ first reaction seemed to be one of general, but not wholly unqualified praise, opinions soon began to change.
On January 31, one student at BC Law, writing under the pseudonym “Dmoe,” questioned whether the administration’s invitation should be withdrawn:
Boston College Law School—particularly because it is a Jesuit institution—and its students should give more thought to the ramifications of the school’s choice of commencement speaker. The administration should strongly reconsider its decision to invite Mr. Mukasey to deliver the commencement address to the Class of 2008.
The next day, Dan Roth ‘04 announced he had started a group, “Waterboarding IS torture,” on Facebook. Roth wrote that it was “beyond comprehension” that Mukasey had been invited and was slated to receive the Founder’s Medal, one of BC Law’s highest honors:
Our Mission Statement reads: ‘We encourage our students to develop their own individual commitment to others and to explore those themes which are central to the Jesuit tradition: the dignity of the human person, the advancement of the common good and compassion for the poor.” It also expresses the goal of preparing students for a “constructive, responsible, and loving use of their knowledge.” How these high principles can be reconciled with awarding Attorney General Mukasey our Founders’ Medal and calling him the ultimate role model for the Class of 2008 is beyond comprehension.
On Feburary 1, when Eagleionline first wrote about Roth’s group, the grouph had 9 members. It now has 51.
Also on February 1, a letter from Professor of Law Zigmut Plater appeared on Roth’s Facebook group. It later appeared on Eagleionine. Plater criticized the invitation both “on its merits and in its process” and concluded thus:
I fear that this present choice of graduation honoree, as it sinks in, could end up eroding our high aspirations to ethical leadership as well as giving us an institutional black eye.
On February 15, Professor Emeritus Arthur Berney joined the debate from his retirement in Hawaii, writing that the choice of a commencement speakers vested with the graduating class absent opposition from the Dean and the Faculty:
As far as I recall the students have the right to choose their commencement speaker, unless the dean and faculty considers the choice ill advised for some important reason involving the reputation of the law school. If the A.G. was chosen by the students, free of any pressure, then I think a rescission is wrong. If after fuller discussion the student body has changed its mind, under some form of democratic deliberation then the only course open is to request the A.G to withdraw his acceptance.
In fact, neither students nor their representatives were consulted this year. Nate Kenyon, BC Law’s Director of Marketing and Communications has stated that the opportunity to have the Attorney General of the United States speak at this year’s Commencement made such discussions a non-issue.
The latest blow to the administration in the debate over the Mukasey invitation comes from James C. Sturdevant ‘72, a prominent consumer rights and class action attorney. In an open letter dated February 20 to Dean Garvey, Sturdevant questioned the invitation on substantive and procedural grounds. He concluded:
I will not continue to financially support an institution whose dean would publicly recognize and associate the law school now with Michael Mukasey. Given his public record, I hope that the invitation will be rescinded by the faculty of the law school at the earliest opportunity.
In response to the growing concern over Mukasey’s invitation, the Law School in conjunction with BC Law’s American Constitution Society are planning an event focused on the substantive issues surrounding Attorney General Mukasey’s confirmation by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Issues to be discussed will include the legality of interrogation techniques in the fight against terror and the role of government lawyers in defending or preserving the government’s legal position on such questions. The event will take place on Thursday, March 13 at 12:30 pm.
Also, despite increasing criticism, the absolute magnitude of the opposition to Mukasey’s selection remains unclear. Some students at this month’s LSA open forum rose in support of the invitation. Some argued that Attorney General Mukasey was undeserving of such harsh criticism while others said the Attorney General’s prestige and importance should outweigh any concerns. Many students highlighted the Attorney General’s long service as a federal judge as evidence that he is a fine role model for aspiring attorneys. These statements were vocally opposed by others in attendance but it was clear that no single view can be said to characterize the BCLS community.
Finally, it remains unclear whether Gavey’s administration will present Attorney General Mukasey with the Founder’s Medal. The award has not been formally announced by the administration.
However, according to one faculty member, the convention for at least the last ten years has been that the Commencement speaker receives the honor.