Yesterday, we talked about a Boston College Law professor, Scott Fitzgibbon, who went up to Maine to shoot an anti-gay-marriage commercial. John Garvey, Dean of Boston College Law, didn’t respond to us, but he did send around an email to the BC Law community. As many predicted, Dean Garvey defended Professor Fitzgibbon. Here is the pertinent part of Dean Garvey’s letter:
Professor Fitzgibbon, as a member of our faculty, is free to express his views. His public statements represent his own opinions, as the advertisement makes clear, and do not state any official position of Boston College Law School. We also have faculty members who hold a contrary view, which they too are free to express publicly. Many have done so while referring to themselves as BC Law professors. One of them has publicly led the fight to oppose the Solomon Amendment on the grounds that it is an affront to gay and lesbian students and prospective members of the U.S. military. Others have taken controversial positions on such subjects as abortion, euthanasia, and the treatment of detainees.
I believe that free expression is central to our mission as a law school committed to public discourse and the free exchange of ideas and opinions. We have faculty and students from many different backgrounds, and with many different points of view. It is our expectation that they will continue to engage in public discourse, and argue their positions with passion and civility, with the intellectual freedom that an academic institution affords to us all.
Dean Garvey is clearly right insofar as academic institutions must be grounded on the free exchange of thoughts and ideas, even when those ideas are controversial.
But as NYU Law Dean Richard Revesz found out, the gay marriage issue isn’t always as simple as a mere intellectual debate. If you believe that marriage is a basic civil right, then the issue can transcend the normal bounds of academic discourse.
Not surprisingly, Above the Law readers have some opinions on whether Dean Garvey is taking the correct stance here. We present Dean Garvery’s full letter and some of the best comments and emails, after the jump.
Many BC Law students who emailed Above the Law expressed concern over the Dean’s response:
The gay students are happy on one hand that Dean Garvey responded to this (because honestly we didn’t think he would), but are of course disappointed that he thinks this professor’s views were within appropriate civil discourse.
Others felt that the Dean unfairly characterized the nature of the arguments against Professor Fitzgibbon’s commercial:
Basically, he painted FitzGibbon as the victim and the community supporting gay and lesbian rights as heathens unjustly persecuting a professor for voicing his beliefs. The main problem is the alienation of supporters of gay marriage in the law school and the use of the school’s name even with the footnote (who actually reads footnotes?!).
Who do you think is winning the victimization race? The professor being unfairly maligned for speaking his mind on a controversial topic? Or gay and lesbian BC Law students who are being told that their civil rights are an open question?
Above the Law commenters had some pretty strong views as well:
So a law professor thinks homosexuality is wrong, who cares? So do the vast majority of Americans. Quit acting like he’s off in left field — if anything, you are.
Others echoed the sentiment that Fitzgibbon’s commercial wasn’t news:
And why is this news? Why is it offensive that one professor goes to bat for the his side, when so many have been so vocal for the pro-gay side for so long?
For the record, I was uncomfortable spending the better part of a decade deflecting the incessant ramblings of unhinged liberal professors, but I never even so much as badmouthed them in private. In retrospect, perhaps I should have started a blog.
Furthermore, a lot of commenters thought that gays and lesbians at Boston College shouldn’t expect any support from the law school on the gay marriage issue, because of the school’s Catholic roots.
This debate will continue at law schools and at town halls and around kitchen tables. But if I may paraphrase former President Bartlet: is there an epidemic of gay marrying going on that I am not aware?
(You can read Dean Garvey’s full letter on the next page.)