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Battle lines form over BC selection of Rice as speaker

Political dispute divides campus

Hundreds of Boston College students joined a group of faculty members yesterday in opposition to the Jesuit school's recent announcement that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been invited to speak at graduation and receive an honorary degree.

Tension mounted on campus as hundreds of students countered with support for the invitation, and two of the three student newspapers published editorials supporting Rice's visit.

Student and faculty groups acknowledged that Rice -- the latest politician embroiled in a protest over a graduation invitation -- will probably speak as planned. But both sides in the debate expressed concern that the 2006 commencement is being hijacked by politics.

The conflict began this week when two leading theology professors circulated a letter opposing the college's invitation, asserting that Rice's views on international affairs and her actions in the Iraq war were in conflict with Roman Catholic values. More than 150 members of the 1,000-person faculty had signed the petition by early yesterday afternoon.

The letter stopped short of asking the college to rescind the invitation, but a student petition circulated yesterday made that demand.

''While we are not in favor of censorship on the basis of Jesuit ideals, we feel that the gift of an honorary degree extends beyond the limits or invocation of free speech and into the realm of acclamation and endorsement by Boston College," the petition said.

Some 800 people had signed the online petition by late afternoon yesterday.

There are just over 9,000 undergraduate students and more than 4,700 graduate students at Boston College.

The vice president and president of the student government also opposed Rice's appearance in a written statement asking the university to ''review conferring an honorary degree upon her."

By late afternoon, more than 300 people had signed a counter petition in favor of Rice coming to speak at graduation and receiving an honorary law degree.

An editorial published yesterday in the conservative student newspaper, The Observer, said Rice's presence at BC's graduation will ''put Boston College on the international map."

Ryan Brown, student government representative for the class of 2006, said, ''None of the Ivies have anything for their graduations approaching the secretary's star power."

Student activists opposed to Rice speaking at commencement announced that they would hold a speak-out on Monday and that they are still considering what actions they will take on graduation day May 22.

Faculty opponents plan to meet today and, like students, are grappling with the thorny issue of what, if any, action they should take during the ceremony.

Some professors who oppose the invitation say there are various proposals on the table and widespread concern about how protests might affect the event.

''Everyone talking about the issue is very concerned that the commencement not be an occasion full of strife and conflict for the families and for the graduating seniors. We don't want the day to be marred," said Cynthia Young, director of African and African Diaspora Studies.

Brown wrote a letter to the faculty yesterday imploring them not to do anything disrespectful of the graduating class or the college.

''We are concerned that some of you may use this opportunity to disrupt the proceedings of our graduation in order to make a political statement," he said.

Opponents, however, insist that regardless of what they do, the event was destined to be political when the administration invited Rice.

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