BC's Undemocratic System - 10/20/04

-The Boston College Heights

In the fall of 1969, a group of five Boston College undergraduate students physically pushed their way past the Dean of Students to actively disrupt interviews between General Electric and BC students, citing GE's production of military hardware, involvement in the Vietnam War, and the killing of innocent civilians.

In the fall of 2004, a group of five students, including ourselves, knelt silently in front of a Raytheon table at the Career Fair to protest the presence of America's second largest nuclear and conventional weapons manufacturer on our campus. The so-called "BC Five" of 1969 received a trial by their peers and were placed on University probation. The two of us were ordered to a "hearing" with Dean for Student Development Robert Sherwood, where we received the same punishment.

The trial of the BC Five was open to the public and the defendants were represented by BC Law students and judged by a jury of faculty and students. At the closed-door "hearing" that we received for our participation in the Raytheon action, Sherwood acted as both judge and jury. We were ordered to Sherwood's office within 24 hours of the protest and told that if we failed to show, the hearing would take place without us. At the hearing, Sherwood accused us of physically blocking Raytheon's table despite the fact that he appears in numerous photos contradicting himself (visit www.bc.edu/gjp for photos). We requested that our hearing be open to the BC community and take place in front of the Student Judicial Board - both requests were immediately denied. Our so-called "appeal" consisted of a single e-mail to Sherwood's subordinate, Dean Paul Chebator, who was not about to contradict his boss and immediately rejected our appeal.

The entire process would've been considered a travesty of justice and democracy by even Soviet Russian standards. The charges brought against us aren't any more legitimate than the hearing itself. To the first charge - failure to fill out a protest approval form - Sherwood admitted he wouldn't have allowed the protest anyway. In addition, is the administration really making students fill out protest approval forms? We know of no other schools that make students go through such an Orwellian process and the idea of requiring administrative approval for a protest again conjures up images from Stalinist Russia. Our second charge was failure to obey a University official - an ambiguous and open-to-interpretation charge that needs no explanation to deconstruct its absurdity. We refuse to recognize the legitimacy of such outrageous rules that undermine both student involvement and democracy on campus.

It says a lot about the state of democracy and self-determination at Boston College when students do not have the right to a fair judicial hearing. This in itself should help us realize that we students (and faculty) have little to no power in the decision-making process at BC and in fact, this is probably the most undemocratic environment many of us will endure throughout our lives. Who determines the classes and majors available to us? Who makes sure there are no condoms available on campus? Who sets the prices at the dining halls and Book Store? Who makes the rules that forbid co-habitation, unhampered entrance to the Mods, and unapproved protests? The administration has all but complete control over the governing of our lives.

The important thing to remember is that power at BC has not always been so concentrated. In the recent past we had a University Academic Senate - composed of students, faculty, and administrators - that set University policy. This idea of a University Academic Senate (also known as democracy or self-determination) lives on at many other universities and there is no reason we can't recreate it here. In the past, there have been serious struggles for student and faculty involvement in the decision-making process - we used to have an undergraduate government that organized student movements and demanded student representation on the Board of Trustees. We used to have student-run dorms where an elected committee of students wrote dorm policy instead of the Office of Residential Life. We used to have a judicial system like the one described in the U.S. constitution. We used to have a university that somewhat resembled a democratic community.

It's time undergrads, grad students, and faculty start retaking control of our own lives. We have a long way to go, but far more has been accomplished in less than a single academic year. We'll start by publicly demanding that we receive a new hearing - one that is open to the BC community, fair, and decided upon by a group of students instead of a single administrator. We ask for the continued support of the BC community in convincing Sherwood that we deserve something resembling a fair trial. Dean Sherwood, why have a Student Judicial Board if it's used only at your discretion? Why are you so reluctant to give us a fair hearing by our peers?

If we start by taking back our own student judiciary system, then we talk about actually writing the rules that we live by and bringing back student-run dorms and the University Academic Senate. We're talking about democracy on campus. We need to unite and we need to take it back.



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