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Mary Daly vs. Boston College
The message in all of the news and editorial coverage of Mary Dalys newest battle in her ongoing war with Boston College (BC) to teach all-women classes is clear: The woman may be well intentioned, but wrong. The smug, self-congratulatory tone of this reporting masks a deeply ahistorical attitude toward social change, feminism, and politics as well as a hypocritical analysis of Boston Colleges continual mistreatment of Mary Daly. It betrays a corrupt misuse of the notion of "fairness." At heart most of the media coverage is little more than a right-wing backlash that uses Dalys feminism and teaching methods as a symbol of extreme, lunatic political correctness.
The ongoing story of radical feminist Mary Daly vs. Jesuit-run Boston College is now three decades old and remains as hot as ever. In June 1969 Daly, an assistant professor of religion and theology at BC, was informed that her contract was not being renewed: i.e., she was fired. It was no great surprise. While Daly was a popular teacher and possessed Doctorates in Religion, Philosophy, and Theology she was also the author of the highly acclaimed The Church and the Second Sexa critical examination of the Roman Catholic Churchs misogyny. It was a book that did not make the highly conservative BC administration happy.
But this was in the wake of Vatican II and the heyday of students demanding a voice in how their universities were run. In a stirring show of support, 1,500 students staged a protest in support of Daly. The Administration was then presented with a petition signed by 2,500 students who demanded academic freedom at BC and tenure for Daly. Nothing happened that summer, but in September Daly was promoted to associate professor and given tenure. Because BC was, at this point in time single-sex, Dalys support came from male students who passionately felt that if Boston College was to be taken seriously as a university it was imperative that it value freedom of thought over church doctrine and free inquiry over church politics. Even more important for Daly was the national media coverage that, in the spirit of the times, portrayed sympathetically and with intelligence both her feminism and her rebellion against church and academic hierarchy.
Since that time relations between Daly and her male, Jesuit bosses have only gotten worse. Dalys tenure secured her job, but BC officials maintained a steady stream of harassment. Among many incidents, she was told in 1975, after being turned down for a promotion to full professor, that she had "made no significant contribution to the field," even though her book Beyond God the Father was a required text in universities and seminaries across the country. In 1982 Daly was informed that comments she made in a public speech while on an unpaid leave of absence from BC "amply fulfill the definition of blasphemy" and may "constitute a violation of contractual obligations she still retains toward this University." The Administration sent numerous, un-enrolled monitors to her classes and questioned her on her lectures. Even though she lectured around the world, was one of the founding figures of feminist studies in religion, conceptualized and implemented new language to think about feminism and theology, and published six more books, Daly was never promoted. Over the past three decades she has received only the most token cost-of-living raises. After more than 30 years of teaching at Boston College, Daly makes $43,275. According to the American Association of University Professors the average salary at BC for a full professor is $98,900; an associate professor $68,400, an assistant professor $58,600, and an instructor $42,400.
The bottom line for BC is that Daly was a trouble-maker, a feminist, a lesbian, and a heretic. When BC went co-ed in 1972 Daly refused to allow male studentsagainst university regulationsto attend her feminist theory and ethics classes, although she was happy to teach them in tutorials. Her reason was that the presence of men disrupted the class. While the Administration attempted several times to force her either follow the rules or retire they entered into an uneasy truce in which she did neither.
The most recent crisis was precipitated by a complaint lodged by Duane Naquin in September 1998 after he was denied entrance to a Daly class. Naquin also complained of discrimination to the arch-conservative Center for Individual Rights (CIR) in Washington DCa non-profit, public interest law firm whose "mission is to reimpose constitutional limits on a meddlesome, interest-group-infested-government." CIR threatened a lawsuit against BC.
CIR a year and a half ago had spearheaded a highly successful attack on affirmative action at the University of Texas. The CIR November 24, 1998 newsletter noted under the headline "Against Radical Feminism" that "CIR has for sometime fought the radical feminist project of subordinating individual rights and constitutional norms (such as due process and freedom of speech) to ideological dictates. In 1999 and beyond, CIR will devote increased energy and resources to this fight."
Without ever speaking to Daly, Boston College and CIR went into negotiation and the latter threatened a lawsuitunder Title IVif Naquin (who had fulfilled none of the requirements for Dalys advanced section) was not allowed to take Dalys class in Feminist Ethics. The BC Administration informed Daly on January 18, 1999 that she would have to allow him in her class or sign a prepared resignation form. She refused and said she would think about taking a leave of absence. On February 6, she received, and immediately signed, her yearly letter of employment (an amendment to her tenure contract) giving her a $600 raise and ostensibly the right to teach for the 1999 fall semester.
Now the Administration is declaring that her "oral agreement" of January 18which she denies ever having givensupercedes her signed contract of February 6. She has filed a breach of tenure suit against BCthe court date is next Augustbut another court decided that BC could fire her if she refused to obey their rule against single-sex classes.
BC claims that Daly "retired" and she claims that she was dismissed and locked out of her office. By sticking to their "voluntary retirement" story BC avoids all questions of due process or breach of contract.
So for the time being Daly is out of BC and out of a job. There are several reasons for Dalyspossibly temporaryfall from academic grace. While these are all reflected in the press coverage of the incident, it is perhaps the hostility and unfairness of the media reportingso important in her winning her 1970 tenure fightthat has turned the tide against her now.
The most obvious example of this is the medias insistent portrayal of Dalys writing and pedagogy as being not so much extreme as crackpot. Most news outlets noted, with barely suppressed glee, that Daly was noted for coining new words (or as a local paper stated it snidely "to speak in her own tongue") and gave examples such as "gynecology," "academentia," and "phallocracy." The implication was that such activity was laughable or rendered her ideas unintelligible. Yet the reality is that almost all philosophers, theologians, scientists and psychologists who articulate new ways to view the world originate new language. Marx, Freud, Hannah Arendt, Bertrand Russell, Paul Tillich, Ayn Rand all challenged prevailing modes of thought with new words and language yet Dalys use of such a tactic is simply ridiculed. The reporting and editorializing about Dalys desire for "womens only" classroom space was as biased. Almost universally, the idea of same-sex classes is considered drastic and outlandish (if not dangerous) yet there is a large body of educational research that shows that women do learn better in single-sex classes. Two major studies published in the last three years demonstrated that college women did better in single-sex classes and a new book Taking Women Seriously: Lessons and Legacies for Educating the Majority, edited by Elizabeth Tidball, draws on these studies and others to prove the same point. None of these studies were ever mentioned in the news reporting on Dalys pedagogy or battle with BC. Single-sex classes may not be proper, or feasible, at Boston College, but the media reporting on Daly presented only a highly biased context of her ideas on the topic.
This irresponsible and biased reporting is deeply injurious to Dalys career and ideas, but more important it is indicative of how the mainstream media has swung so rightward that the standards of "fairness" are completely off-balance. No matter how one feels about Dalys "women only" classroom space it is important to see her fight with Boston College in the much broader context of attacks on feminism, gay liberation, gay rights, affirmative action, and civil rights that is now occurring.
It is obvious that popular notions of feminism have changed drastically over the past three decades. In the late 1960s and early 1970s writers such as Kate Millett and Robin Morgan were taken seriously by the media. Their radical critiques, often criticized, were still aired and discussed. Now it is mostly neo-con feminists like Camille Paglia, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Katie Rophie more likely to defend patriarchy than try to overthrow itwho are media darlings.
But these are not the only social changes that affect Daly. The very notion of academic freedomso central to the social change of the 1960shas changed. This is particularly true of Catholic institutions. A New York Times article earlier this year (February 5,1999) detailed how a committee of American Bishops last November, responding to a Vatican mandate, issued norms and rules to make Catholic Universities and Colleges more answerable to the Church. This is a major change from the post-war period when Catholic educational institutions chaffed under the charge that they were narrow and closed-minded. Three of the stipulations the Bishops proposed were that all university presidents be "faithful Catholics" and take an "oath of fidelity" to the Church; that the majority of faculty positions be filled with "faithful Catholics;" and that all theology professors be approved by Church officials.
The Vaticans insistence on orthodoxy dovetails perfectly with CIRs attack on Dalys feminism, and both are in line with a broader range of conservative trends. For the most part the press has capitulated to the reigning conservative Zeitgeist. There was little attempt to place Daly and her predicament in a critical, broader historical context of changing attitudes about feminism, academic freedom, or the Vatican crackdown on Catholic universities. Most of the media parroted Boston Colleges line that Daly had to go because her desire to teach all-women classes was "unfair."
Jack Dunn, Boston Colleges spokesperson, grabbed the high moral ground in the media coverage with an air of exasperated hauteur, "We just fear it is dangerous to condone intolerance. You cant just make an exception for discrimination or intolerance. Its a slippery slope, its dangerous ground and we refuse to do it. If this were a white professor saying I dont want black students in my classroom, obviously wed take the same position. This [is]...the same issue. Its fairness. Its accessibility."
This discourse of "fairness" is fake and corrupt, isolating Daly from a broader framework of "fairness" simply to penalize her. This skewed logic is most evident in the constant replay of BCs proffering of the racial analogy of a white teacher and black students. The correct analogywhether you agree with Daly or notis a black teacher excluding white students from the classroom. That, of course, is a more complicated example, given the current spirited debate about the usefulness (and existence) of all black grammar and high schools in New York City. Framing the question this way might actually encourage debate and thinking.
But aside from this, the medias seeming insistence on the moral question of "fairness" is effectively undercut when you look at what they dont discuss. While endorsing Boston Colleges portrayal of itself as a champion of "fairness" and "tolerance," the media never mentions that Boston College has, for 29 years, refused to acknowledge, fund, or grant a gay and lesbian student group official status or space. Nor have they put into place any institutional emotional, psychological, or medical support for queer students. Fair? Tolerant? Dangerous?
The media also never mentions that Boston College health services will not dispense birth control information, condoms, or supply safe-sex information other than endorsing abstinence.
Nor do you find in the media coverage of Mary Dalys situation that the Jesuits who run Boston College have many other schoolscalled seminariesthat are predicated on excluding women. Of course, this is because the Catholic Church consistently and with full intentions treat women as second class citizens. Thisobviouslyis where Mary Dalys trouble began in the first place, and why she wrote The Church and the Second Sex.
Boston College, being a private institution can make whatever rules and regulations they choose. Being a religious institution they are exempt from anti-discrimination laws by which public institutions have to abide. But this does not mean that they are fair or tolerant or not dangerous to women, queers, or heretics. The lessons of the media reporting on Mary Daly is that the standards by which sheand other political issuesare judged have swung far to the right. The Center For Individual Rights and the Vatican now set the standards for "fairness," and complicated histories get erased in the rush to attack, without thoughtful discussion or nuance, any idea that is seen as "politically correct" or outside of the right-as-middle mainstream. Z