Friday, February 13, 2009

Crucifixes and Icons at Boston College. What Nerve.

Boston College President, Father William Leahy SJ, has decided to install crucifixes and/or icons in each of BC's classrooms as part of an attempt to reconnect BC to its Catholic mission.

Generally speaking, the news has gone over well, but not with everyone.

A smattering of reactions from here and there.

Student reaction has been generally supportive, but among faculty, there is division over the appropriateness of the step. A meeting last month of arts and sciences department chairs turned into a heated argument over the classroom icons; a handful of faculty have written to the administration to protest, and some unsuccessfully circulated a petition asking to have crucifixes removed.

"I believe that the display of religious signs and symbols, such as the crucifix, in the classroom is contrary to the letter and spirt of open intellectual discourse that makes education worthwhile and distinguishes first-rate universities from mediocre and provincial ones," Maxim D. Shrayer, chairman of the department of Slavic and Eastern languages and literatures, said in an interview.

“There is no choice if you don’t think it’s appropriate. You can’t turn it around,” said biology professor Dan Kirschner, faculty adviser for BC’s chapter of Hillel, a Jewish student group. “I think it is being insensitive to the people of other faith traditions here.”

Amir Hoveyda, head of BC’s chemistry department, blasted the school in an e-mail to the Herald for “not being interested in an exchange with its faculty members.”

In an interview with the college newspaper, The Observer, which broke the story, Hoveyda described the crucifixes as “offensive” and the university’s actions as “anti-intellectual.”

“I can hardly imagine a more effective way to denigrate the faculty of an educational institution,” he is quoted as saying. “The insult is particularly scathing, since such symbols were installed without discussion . . . in a disturbingly surreptitious manner.”

Sophomore Alex LoVerde, 20, believes a crucifix “pushes the Catholic religion” and does not belong in a classroom. “I think the Jesuit tradition is more of openness and tolerance,” LoVerde said. “I think that an overt display of crucifixes is not what the Jesuits would have had in mind.”

Oh, give me a break! With moonbats like this around, no wonder we have SSPX wingnuts around... Is there anyone sane out there?

Says Father John Paris SJ:

"Christian iconography and symbols permeate this place and always have," said the Rev. John Paris, a Jesuit priest who teaches bioethics at BC. Paris said he finds "offensive" the notion that a crucifix impedes the ability of students or faculty to think critically in a classroom and called the criticism "the narrow and bizarre musings of a few disgruntled folks."

"This is a small problem for those with small minds," Paris added. "This is not a serious controversy.

Watch the video from this link.


crystal said...

The faculty and also the students at a Jesuit college are not all going to be Catholic or even Christian, so maybe that's part of why they are offended. And there's the thought that a college atmosphere should be uninfluenced and open. One the other hand, I don't think icons or crucifixes need to be anything but symbolic. Maybe it's that the scholl seems to be wanting it both ways - to be Catholic and to be aacademically open-minded.

Jeff said...

A Catholic school has a right to be a Catholic school. Diverse population or not, I think a Jesuit university has a right to put crucifixes in their classrooms if they like.

crystal said...

It's not that they don't have the right, they do of course, plus pics of St. Iggy :). It's just that maybe the students/faculty wonder what this means about what's going to come first in the area of a college education - Catholic truth or The Truth?

Jeff said...

Crystal, come on. Self-criticism is all very good and fine, and Lord knows there has been plenty to be self-critical about lately, but a reaction like the one they are seeing over at BC suggests to me that the Society has been bending over backwards so long in a wish not to offend that they may have lost track of their mission.

Garpu said...

Good for the school. And if the faculty don't like having a crucifix in the classroom, then they shouldn't have applied at a Catholic school. You don't see me applying to Baptist-run schools, for instance.

Jeff said...


The Baptists may have some great schools, but I bet you won't find a cool statue of Iñigo like this one at any of them.

Steve Bogner said...

That's just how universities work; faculty & administration conflicts are always present.

My sons go to a Jesuit high school, where they have some non-Catholics and non-Christians. It's explained up front to everyone that this is Jesuit school and you're going to be in a religious environment; you'll hear about God and Jesus, and every Thursday in homeroom you'll participate in the Examen. And you'll take religion and scripture classes. I don't hear complaints about that, because the expectation was up front. Maybe BC is playing catch-up; hopefully they are working those expectations into their faculty/staff recruiting and orientation.

Garpu said...

That's just it...I'm sure they're great schools, but I got forwarded a job announcement at one. There was no way i could apply to it, since it required all faculty to sign a statement of faith that contradicted mine. Created some bad blood with the person who sent me the announcement, but I'm not going to lie, you know?

Liam said...

It's funny what people argue about in academic settings.

What I like about the move by BC is that it is adding something to the situation to reinforce the Catholic environment instead of taking away. All the Ave Maria University types who just want to censor everything. They want to shut down a given play or abolish a given student group. The crucifix/icon thing is constructive, not destructive.

cowboyangel said...

It's impossible to really know what's going on here, but it may not be so much about Catholicism as much as communication between administration and faculty, which is often bad to begin with. If Leahy is trying to "reconnect" BC to its Catholic mission, that sounds like it wasn't that Catholic before. And though I knew it was Jesuit, I'd never heard that it was particularly religious. The U.S. is full of universities that started as religious institutions and then moved towards a more diverse or secular place. A faculty member may have felt comfortable taking a job at a "not-so-Catholic" Catholic university, never imagining that they would wind up with crucifixes in the classrooms. That would be a huge change for some people.

The real issue may be the administration of BC changing the overall atmosphere and mission of the school without consulting faculty. That's basically what happened at Stony Brook. Faculty came here under the impression that it was a serious research institution, only to have the most recent president unilaterally move the school towards being an undergrad-centered institution over the last decade. If you've been working somewhere for 20 years, and suddenly the school starts to change, and you have tenure, and you've been there longer than the president and believe in the mission the school had before, and you weren't consulted about the change, then you would probably be pretty frustrated.

BC certainly has the right to pursue its Catholic mission, but I can imagine disappointment on the part of some people who've been there a while. It's a big shift. I think there's room for understanding towards both sides. If Leahy's like most university presidents, he's not going to give a damn what faculty think and the school will change and all the people who want it to be more Catholic will be happy with the crucifixes. I'd let the others bitch a little, because that's probably the only thing they're going to get out of this.

Jimmy Mac said...


victor said...

Jeff, I accidently dropped a post in Crystal's blog which was suppose to come here!

They just don't listen to me anymore. Go Figure! :)

Jeff said...

Hi Jen & Steve,

Jesuit high schools are great. Most people do go into them knowing what to expect, because the charism and the focus has always been rather consistent.

In a collegiate setting, the issues around academic freedom and the need to attract top-flight talent in the faculty makes things a little dicier.

Jen makes an interesting point. There's no profession of faith expected at most Catholic colleges like there are at many evangelical schools. It reminds me a bit of the formerly Catholic family I know who recently left for a megachurch. You can get assistance from the food pantry over there, but only if you are a registered church member.


I agree about the low-key positive approach. It's not about loyalty oaths and imprimaturs.


I guess there is some fear that this small step will eventually lead to loyalty oaths and imprimaturs, but I don't think it's about that at BC and is unlikely to be about that. It's been a standing joke for a long time among Catholic circles that BC wasn't really a Catholic college anymore. I think this was as step in the right direction. Just the fact that this has become a source of controversy suggests to me that many of the secular-minded faculty over there had gotten the impression that BC wasn't a Catholic college anymore too.

Tenure... I know academia is cut-throat and landing academic jobs is difficult in an intensely competitive environment, but the whole notion of tenure seems almost medieval (bear in mind, I'm wishing it intensely for you guys). I've gotten so used to seeing solidly performing people let go in the business arena for absolutely no reason whatsoever that I guess I've gotten somewhat jaded. I've also grown used to seeing directives being issued from above, with no input being seriously considered from the people below who actually have to make things work. It's enough to make the Catholic hierarchy look downright democratic. :)

Is that Jimmy Mac from dotCommonweal?


Ha! Hey, that's alright. I saw your post over at Crystal's anyhow.

Garpu said...

What would've been cool--and more in line with Jesuit thinking--is if BC had commissioned artists to do crucifixes and icons for the rooms.

Jeff said...


That would have been a nice touch. I was gratified to hear that many of them were donated by students who'd picked them up on their volunteer missions and trips overseas. I saw this quote from BC spokesman Jack Dunn:

"The crucifixes in question have been brought back largely from students who have gone on immersion trips to Central and South America and to Europe…. The only thing that’s changed really is that in classrooms where crucifixes and iconography and posters hadn’t been present, an attempt has been made to place some form of Christian art and that effort was completed in January,” Dunn said. “The effort was to present Christian art in those remaining classrooms as a way of manifesting our pride in and our commitment to our religious heritage."