Boston College’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors has sent a third letter to the Rev. William Leahy, the president, asking that the administration appoint an independent committee to examine the circumstances surrounding the creation and conduct of the oral history collection known as the Belfast Project. And for the third time, the AAUP board members have yet to receive a response from Father Leahy, the college’s provost or its board, said Susan Michalczyk, the college’s AAUP chapter president.
The controversial legal fight over access to oral history records at Boston College has been ongoing since 2011, when the U.S. Justice Department issued a subpoena for all materials from the Belfast Project to be turned over to British authorities investigating a 1972 killing of a Belfast mother of 10. The project included interviews with former members of the Irish Republican Army and other militia groups who fought during the Troubles and gave interviews with the understanding that the records would be kept in confidence until their death. This June, a federal appeals court ruled that the college would only have to turn over 11 of the 85 interviews.
While the case has brought up issues of academic freedom, it has also raised the question of whether the college violated professional standards by conducting research without appropriate policies or oversight for the project, Michalczyk said. The Boston College chapter of AAUP executive board members sent a first letter to the Boston College administration in March of 2012, asking that a committee be appointed to investigate “the review process that led to university funding for the project” as well as “the extent to which the research methods and procedures were subject to institutional review and oversight.”
Dave Quigley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences responded to the letter, stating, “As this is a matter now before the courts, we will be better informed at the conclusion of the litigation to determine whether the particulars of this case warrant review of our research policies and protocols."
But a second letter to the administration from Michalczyk and the board brought more of the institution’s actions into question, including where the funding for the project came from. According to the letter, in the introduction to his 2010 book, Voices from the Grave, Belfast Project director Ed Moloney wrote that the bulk of the project was financed by Boston College. In a 2012 faculty forum, Father Leahy contradicted this statement and said all of the funding came from outside sources, Michalczyk said.
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said he was not even aware that the Aug. 20 letter was sent to the president. He said that since the case is still active before the courts, Dean Quigley’s April 2012 statement “remains valid.”
Michalczyk said the third letter — which simply reiterates the faculty members’ request for an investigative committee to look into the project — was prompted by an Aug. 6 blog post written by Moloney. In his scathing post, Moloney says he received “threats” from Boston College, and he concludes that “BC simply cannot be trusted. It is not a safe place to conduct research."
Faculty members took the “call to shun the university” from Moloney “very personally,” Michalczyk said, which is why she and other AAUP board members are once again calling for action from the Boston College administration.