Mukasey Denied Law School Honors Because of Stance on Torture
Boston Globe
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / March 5, 2008

Boston College Law School will not award its highest honor to US Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey when he speaks at its May commencement, amid sharp criticism from students, faculty, and alumni over his invitation.

John Garvey, law school dean, announced the decision yesterday at a forum with graduating students held to discuss Mukasey's selection after weeks of intense debate on campus. Some alumni and students at the Jesuit school saw the move as a compromise to appease critics of Mukasey's controversial refusal to declare that an interrogation technique known as waterboarding constitutes torture.

Garvey said the decision to deny Mukasey the Founder's Medal predated the controversy over his choice as commencement speaker and was not directed at the attorney general personally.

In an effort to depoliticize the selection process, the school will no longer award the medal to commencement speakers, he said.

"This is a policy decision that will make it easier for us to invite people of his prominence in the future," Garvey said.

He said that inviting high-profile figures with well-known public views will invariably spur debate and that divorcing their selection from the school's highest honor will allow greater latitude in attracting noteworthy speakers.

But critics of Mukasey's selection said the announcement was designed to defuse criticism and find a middle ground to avoid rescinding the invitation.

"It's obviously a concession," said James C. Sturdevant, an alumnus who practices law in San Francisco. "But, on balance, I couldn't see any reason to extend him an invitation, and I question how the decision was made in the first place."

Dan Roth, a 2004 Law School graduate, said that while he was pleased by yesterday's announcement, he believes that the school should have rescinded Mukasey's invitation altogether, because his position on waterboarding conflicts with the university's Jesuit mission.

"It's not the time to give someone who has taken that position the platform and the honor," Roth said.

Mukasey's office declined to comment yesterday.

The Founder's Medal is awarded to those who "embody the traditions of professionalism, scholarship, and service which the Law School seeks to instill in its students," according to the school's website.

The past three commencement speakers, US Representative Edward J. Markey; Michael Greco, president of the American Bar Association; and US Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire have received the medal.

In January, the Law School announced that Mukasey, a former federal judge whose nomination was confirmed by the US Senate in November, had accepted the school's invitation to speak at commencement, calling it "a singular honor."

"I cannot imagine a better role model for the class of 2008," Garvey said in the statement.

Garvey and several other law school deans made the decision to invite Mukasey, according to a law school spokesman. Some students were upset that they were not consulted about the invitation.

David C. Weinstein, chairman of the BC Law School Board of Overseers, wrote Monday in a letter to other board members that Mukasey's presence at commencement "advances BC's diversity and strengthens our school."

"It is a mark of prestige among elite schools to attract a speaker who operates at the epicenter of American legal issues, regardless of whether the speaker's political views are liberal, moderate, or conservative," he wrote.

At his confirmation hearings last fall, Mukasey refused to say whether he thought waterboarding, a simulated drowning, is legal. But Weinstein wrote that he was not convinced that Mukasey had expressed a position on waterboarding and pointed out that Mukasey said at the hearings that torture is illegal and that Congress has the authority to outlaw waterboarding.

Commencement speakers, particularly politicians, frequently stir opposition on college campuses. In 2006, hundreds of Boston College students protested the invitation of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Garvey said the political debate was healthy.

"Far from wishing the controversy would go away, I think we should rejoice in it," he said.

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