(5-13-98) -- University President William P. Leahy, SJ, strongly endorsed Boston College's Undergraduate Admission employees -- particularly Director John Mahoney Jr. -- and policies at a press conference in Fulton 511 yesterday, following allegations that BC's denial of admission to two basketball recruits last year was racially based.
"I am shocked, saddened and angered by this accusation, and I cannot and will not allow such a reckless and irresponsible claim to go unanswered," said Fr. Leahy, referring to a lawsuit brought by former Men's Basketball Coach Jim O'Brien which alleges that such a bias existed.
"Charges of racism are difficult to respond to, as we all know," Fr. Leahy added. "But I am here this afternoon to tell you Boston College is not a racist institution and it has long been committed to treating people with respect and sensitivity. Nor does it tolerate acts of bias and discrimination by its students, faculty, administrators and staff or anyone associated with Boston College."
O'Brien resigned in April 1997 to become head coach of the Ohio State University basketball program. The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk County Superior Court last month and made public Monday, accuses Boston College of breach-of-contract and slander. According to a Boston Globe article, the lawsuit also stated BC had allowed the Office of Undergraduate Admission to "conduct reviews of applicants with an apparent bias against African-Americans."
At the press conference, Fr. Leahy said that because of legal issues he could not address the more specific aspects of the lawsuit. He did, however, recount events and discussions surrounding the University's decision concerning the two applicants, and the circumstances under which O'Brien left Boston College. He also stated his firm belief that the University could attain excellence in both its academic and athletic programs.
Fr. Leahy said that in the past five years the University had made "great progress" in its commitment to foster greater diversity among its student body, pointing out that AHANA and international students now make up approximately 20 percent of the undergraduate population, and that the number of African-Americans students, in particular, has grown.
Fr. Leahy praised the efforts of Undergraduate Admission, and especially Mahoney, in helping the University achieve this diversity.
"Anyone who knows John Mahoney ... knows he is a man who has labored long and hard to recruit not only African-Americans, but all minorities," he said. "Not only does he work with students, he also mentors staff."
Recalling the controversy over the two recruits - Elton Tyler and Jonathan DePina - Fr. Leahy said that after reviewing their cases he felt the Undergraduate Admission Office had been correct in its decision to deny their applications. However, he added, the students and their families had been "led to believe by the coaching staff that they were going to be accepted by Boston College," and this convinced him there was "a moral imperative" for the University to offer admission. Tyler and DePina elected to enroll in other institutions.
Fr. Leahy noted that the University's admission process, for athletes and non-athletes alike, entails "not just grade point averages or SAT scores" but considers factors including the student's family support system and ability to communicate.
"The bottom line is," Fr. Leahy said, "do the people in our Admission Office think the person can graduate from Boston College and have a profitable undergraduate career?"
One result of the controversy, Fr. Leahy said, was that the University had "strengthened the communication process" between admissions and athletics to decrease the likelihood of any future misunderstandings.
Fr. Leahy said he was "perplexed and stunned" at the suit brought by O'Brien, whom he said he personally liked and to whom he had been prepared to offer a contract extension. Concerns over the nature and confidentiality of their communication prompted him to halt negotiations, Fr. Leahy said. The allegations against the Admission Office in the lawsuit, he said, warranted a response from the University.
"Breach of contract is one thing," he said, "racism is another." Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo also spoke briefly at the press conference, saying he felt his department had a good rapport with Mahoney's. He noted he had asked questions about the athletics-academics relationship when interviewing for the job last year and was satisfied with the answers.
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