Thursday, February 25, 1999
At BC, class divisions
Feminist is refusing to open courses to menBy Cindy Rodríguez, Globe Staff, 02/25/99
After 25 years of teaching women-only classes at Boston College, Mary Daly, a renowned radical feminist philosopher with a history of sparking controversy, received an ultimatum from college administrators: Accept male students or stop teaching.
Daly has balked - and the ensuing debate, with liberals and conservatives arguing the merits of allowing segregated classes, may become the most vivid chapter yet in her career.
A college spokesman says Daly has violated federal law and school policy during most of her tenure, but it has become an issue only recently, after two male students complained that Daly barred them from her class.
Daly, a tenacious, spirited woman, believes the university is using the issue to ''get rid of her.'' Backed by scores of students, and the support of many feminists who are slowly finding out about it, Daly vows to fight the Jesuit college.
''After beginning my career there with a bang, I cannot end with a whimper,'' said Daly, who is 70.
She has rejected a retirement package but hasn't decided her course of action. She and her attorney, Gretchen Van Ness, acknowledge they are facing a formidable foe.
One of the students who asserts discrimination, senior Duane Naquin, has the backing of the Center For Individual Rights, the conservative Washington, D.C., law firm that successfully sued to end race-based preferences at public universities in Texas and is suing Michigan on similar grounds.
In October, administrators received a letter from Naquin's attorney at the center threatening to sue, and it prompted officials to reconsider Daly's insistence on teaching men and women separately.
''Boston College's opinion is that she is violating federal law and is thereby discriminating against male students to whom she is denying access,'' said college spokesman Jack Dunn.
Naquin declined to comment on his complaint.
Instead of allowing Naquin to take her class during this semester, Daly decided to take a leave of absence. She says she knew he was affiliated with a conservative group on a campus and he didn't have the prerequisite.
She hoped to return after the controversy subsided. In 1989, after several male students challenged Daly's women-only policy, she took a leave for a semester and the issue faded away.
''BC has wronged me and my students by caving into right-wing pressure and depriving me of my right to teach freely,'' Daly said. ''This is not about discrimination. ... This is about leveling the rights of women and minorities so that white male power reigns.''
Daly is a renowned ''radical-feminist'' theologian and philosopher, a pioneer in the field. The term radical, which Daly says has lost its real meaning in contemporary use, refers to getting ''at the root'' of what is wrong with society.
Fundamental to her philosophy is the belief that since all established religions are patriarchal, they are philosophically and morally bankrupt.
She has written seven major radical feminist books that explore worldwide atrocities against women and avenues of expression for women's creativity.
Among the books she has written are: ''The Church and the Second Sex;'' ''Beyond God the Father,'' which is used as a text in theology, philosophy, and women's studies classes in universities throughout the world; ''Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism '' and most recently ''Quintessence ... Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto.''
Dunn, the college spokesman, said Daly offers a unique perspective that all students - including men - should be able to experience in a regular classroom.
But Daly argues she cannot effectively teach these courses with men in the room because it creates a dynamic that inhibits women. Not only do men misunderstand her concepts - because men cannot understand what it's like to be a woman - but they tend to be disruptive, believing they are similarly oppressed, she says. These kinds of disrupting influences ''dumb down'' the class, she insists, keeping it from ''soaring.''
Also, she says, because society teaches women to nurse men, any male student in the class who argues or says he doesn't understand would end up becoming a center of attention, zapping creative energy from the rest of the students.
Over the years, Daly says, she has taught many male students by offering one-on-one independent study classes. If anything, she argues, the male students get more of her attention.
When she first started teaching at Boston College, in 1966, she taught all-male classes because women were denied entry to the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1969, when Daly applied for tenure and was denied, 1,500 students, all men, marched on campus to protest.
Now, 30 years later, it's the women on campus leading the fight. Fourteen students signed a letter sent to college administrators two weeks ago expressing their dismay.
One student who signed the letter, Megan Niziol, a senior majoring in international studies, said Daly's voice is being silenced and charged that the administration has handled the issue awkwardly, giving no explanation to students who hoped to take her class.
Niziol says the issue has divided the campus, with many students saying if the situation were reversed and a male professor tried to keep women out, he'd be immediately fired.
To that, Niziol says, ''We live in a patriarchal society in which eliminating womens' access to education has been a method to keep them oppressed.''
Those who support Daly see a danger in allowing the Center for Individual Rights to pressure Daly into retiring. A CIR letter sent to hundreds of supporters nationwide seeking financial support said the CIR plans to attack ''two of feminism's sacred cows: the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.''
Terrence Pell, a spokesman for CIR, said he cannot comment on any case without a client's permission, but said it's clear that Boston College is in violation of Title IX and discriminates against men.
This story ran on page A01 of the Boston Globe on 02/25/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.