Boston Globe

Friday, February 26, 1999


Exclusion at BC

The federal law against discrimination by gender is as sweeping as its introductory sentence: ''No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in ... any education program.'' This generalization makes the purpose of the law clear and exceptions difficult to sustain. Boston College is right to insist that associate professor Mary Daly admit men to her course.

Daly teaches ''Introduction to Feminist Ethics,'' which ''examines the interconnected atrocities perpetuated against women and nature in patriarchal society.'' Many men might be put off by that description, but those who are not, or those who wish to challenge its premise, ought to be able to take the course.

''She has taught men throughout her career at BC,'' said Gretchen Van Ness, Daly's lawyer. ''She invites them to study in a separate section.''

Single-sex classes might have merit in elementary and secondary schools for disciplinary reasons, but college courses at their best are challenging and mind-opening, not only because of the professor's lectures but because of exchanges among students of different backgrounds.

In any event, the BC administration has come down firmly in favor of coeducation. BC officials have fought this battle with Daly, now 70, before and are determined that she comply or cease teaching. The absence of her strong, independent voice would be a loss for the college.

Daly is not one to go quietly. Her courses often challenged Catholic doctrine, and the college was on the verge of denying her tenure in 1969 until hundreds of male students protested. It is to BC's credit that it changed its mind. Daly would be wise to show similar flexibility today.

She insists that the latest controversy is a right-wing conspiracy to undermine the antidiscrimination law. But it is she who is discriminating here. It is better to engage opponents in a classrooom dialogue than be vulnerable to caricature as an extremist.

Daly could have sought work at a traditionally all-women's college, one of the exceptions allowed under the law. She instead chose to stay at BC as it became fully coeducational. She cannot now reserve an exclusionary space in her classroom.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 02/26/99.
© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.