Tag Archives: leahy

At 141st Commencement Exercises, A Fond Farewell for Class of 2017

U.S. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania implored the Class of 2017 to dedicate themselves to service in his Commencement address Monday morning.

“As a Holy Cross alum … you can imagine my surprise when Father Leahy asked me to speak,” Casey said, although he listed off a slew of family connections to Boston College. “So I hope I’ve established some BC street cred.”

After he graduated from college, Casey spent a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching and coaching basketball. There was a girl he remembered from his days with the JVC, and one day 20 years later, as he was running for the Senate, the girl showed up at his campaign office. Since he’d seen her, Casey said, she had had a hard life—although now she worked as a foster parent for kids who had been abused. Casey asked her how she did that work.

“Sometimes our burdens can become our blessings,” she said.

“She taught me so much that day about what it means to serve,” Casey said.

The U.S., he added, needs adults to serve, especially as only one-third of American adults are getting a college degree.

“Your labor will bring healing and hope to the least, the last, and the lost,” he said. “To our graduates I say: please accept the sacred invitation to live in the light of service.”

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor

Leahy Talks Trump, Trigger Warnings in Candid Interview with Florida News Site

In a wide-ranging interview published on Friday by the Florida-based news site TCPalm.com, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., commented on the United States in the Donald Trump era, “softness” among some of today’s college students, and changes to higher education during his 20-year tenure. The full interview can be read here.

Leahy was previewing a talk he is scheduled to give next month at the Rappaport Center at Temple Beit HaYam in Stuart, Fla. The center was funded by Jerry Rappaport, the Boston real estate developer and philanthropist for whom the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at Boston College Law School is named. University Spokesman Jack Dunn said Rappaport had asked Leahy to speak at this year’s talk, which is titled “Bridging Divides: Fostering Dialogue & Civic Engagement.” The interview was conducted by Eve Samples, a columnist for TCPalm, who will also moderate the talk next month.

The candid interview is a rare occurrence lately for Leahy, who declined an interview request this fall for a Heights article commemorating his 20th anniversary as University president. According to the same article, he declined similar requests from the Office of News and Public Affairs and Boston College Magazine. He also declined an interview request last March from The Boston Globe for an article about BC’s struggling for-profit sports that ran on the paper’s front page, providing a statement instead. It is unclear if this interview with TCPalm was conducted in person or via written responses to questions.

Leahy said in the interview that he agreed to speak at the event because he thinks there’s an intersection between religious beliefs and ongoing issues in the United States. He said his university background makes him optimistic about Americans’ ability to approach those issues with constructive dialogue.

Leahy brought up several areas of national controversy, some of which have also received considerable attention this year at BC.

“People get emotional, whether it’s around race, foreign policy, free speech, sexual orientation,” he said. “Once you have a common ground, it’s easy to engage and look at the needs of the community.”

This fall, a few hundred students attended a “Silence is Violence” march through campus that specifically criticized Leahy’s lack of a response to an incident of homophobic vandalism on campus. Earlier this semester, a group of graduate students involved in Eradicate BC Racism were sanctioned for their involvement in two unregistered protests that took place this fall. Leahy did not elaborate on specific incidents related to the issues he mentioned, but he did make several comments about general life on college campuses and how higher education has evolved.

He also thinks the Trump administration will move toward the middle, gradually becoming more moderate because Republicans and Democrats will be reluctant to enact extreme legislation. He thinks bipartisan action and compromise are for the good of all, but does worry that Trump is a liability in areas that have fewer checks and balances.  

“My concern is more on foreign policy with Trump, where he’s got a lot of latitude,” he said. “Sometimes he makes decisions or statements that seem rash, then he walks them back.”

Leahy added that he sees “painful” contradictions between his personal views on morality and religion and Trump’s rise to power. In November, Leahy signed two statements affirming BC’s commitment to upholding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama administration program that provides protections for undocumented students. Last month, Leahy and other senior administrators issued a statement condemning Trump’s executive order banning travel for seven Muslim-majority nations.

“Here’s the president of the United States saying and doing things that I think are counter to how a mature, moral person should live,” he said.

Asked if he supports the concept of “safe spaces” or trigger warnings designed to protect students from potentially offensive speech, Leahy said he does not. Instead, he thinks “we have to help young people live with realities.”

I don’t want anybody being harassed or called names—but I think there’s a softness in the American segment of the population aged 18 to 22, where some people don’t want anybody to disagree with them,” he said. “And parents, in so many instances, have protected their children. Life has some tough moments. I think there’s a value in having moments where there’s some irritation, and it’s got to be handled correctly. But I don’t believe in trigger warnings. I think challenge is a good thing.”

Parents sometimes ask Leahy what they can do to instill responsibility in their teenagers. He said he tells them to make sure their kids get jobs that require them to show up on time, put in eight hours, and “experience the joy of accomplishment.” That stems, he said, from his experience growing up on a farm in Iowa, taking care of animals and tending crops.

Leahy compared today’s political climate with that of the 1820s. Andrew Jackson called the election of 1824 a “corrupt bargain” when it was won by John Quincy Adams after a vote in the House of Representatives. When Jackson won in 1828, it was a similar change to Trump’s election this November.

“People feared we had this buffoon coming in from the backwoods,” Leahy said. “America survived the big transition.”

Leahy, who got his Ph.D. in U.S. history at Stanford University, said he “would certainly not hold Jackson up as a paragon of virtue,” but he thinks history has its ups and downs.

“When you take the long view, the pendulum swings and comes back to the middle,” he said.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

Admin Statement Affirms Commitment to Diversity

University President William P. Leahy, S.J., along with Executive Vice President Michael Lochhead and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley, sent an email to students condemning President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order, which imposed a strict immigration ban on countries with large Muslim populations including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The ban was enacted to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” from entering the U.S., and established a religious test for those seeking to enter the country in order to give preference to Christians and other non-Muslim immigrants.

Trump’s action led to a nationwide backlash, with protests breaking out at major airports across the country where American citizens and immigrants alike were denied entry to the country. Many members of Congress and other influential figures criticized the legislation. Thousands took to the streets in major cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston to protest the executive order and to decry its discriminatory and divisive nature.

Although Leahy has not had the best record when it comes to publicly responding to national events and crises, as his most recent email to students was sent in May 2014, he should be commended for responding to such a pertinent matter in a timely fashion. Leahy received criticism following his failure to issue a statement regarding the controversial incident in the Fall in which letters on a sign in the Mod Lot were rearranged to display a homophobic slur. This motivated students to organize a “Silence is Violence” march across campus shortly thereafter. The recent statement, however, represents a departure from Leahy’s precedent of remaining silent regarding political issues that has been set by his actions in recent years.

Leahy, Lochhead, and Quigley’s statement, in part, avows the administration’s increased commitment to creating a university in which all students feel welcome. Leahy took a similarly constructive step earlier this school year when he signed two statements supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order law enacted by President Barack Obama in 2012 that protects undocumented students from deportation.

The Order is also contrary to American understandings of this nation’s role as a refuge and its place as a society that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or national origin,” the three administrators said in the statement.

This perspective is shared by many following Trump’s prejudiced decision. The three also gave mention to a statement from Pope Francis, who was critical of any person claiming to be a Christian while at the same time shunning refugees seeking safety from war and persecution in their home countries. The trio mentioned a number of campus resources available for student support, such as the Office of International Students and Scholars.

The statement from the administration reaffirms the University’s commitment to providing for and developing a diverse student body at Boston College, at a time in American history in which little is guaranteed regarding the fair and equal treatment of those outside the societal majority.

“We ask all members of the University community to be especially mindful of those among us who are most vulnerable as a result of this Executive Order, and to join us in reaffirming our core values of respect, welcome, and compassion for all,” the three concluded in the email. This reflects a compassionate and constructive approach to this troublesome period. If Trump continues to enact bigoted policies and takes further steps to move the nation away from social progress, similar support from Leahy, Lochhead, Quigley, and other authority figures will become increasingly important to the vitality of the diverse BC community.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

Leahy, Senior Admin Issue Statement on Trump’s Executive Order

University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., Executive Vice President Michael Lochhead, and Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley sent the Boston College community an email tonight condemning President Donald Trump’s executive order barring entry to the United States for citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and barring entry for all refugees for 120 days.

“This Order undermines a key strength of our higher education system, as it turns away talented faculty and students who seek to immigrate to the United States,” the three wrote. “For decades, colleges and universities in America have benefited from such individuals, and our nation has enjoyed the fruits of having the world’s greatest post-secondary education system.”

The letter mentioned Pope Francis’s statement that, “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help.”

In December, Leahy signed two statements supporting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order from the administration of Barack Obama that helps protect undocumented students on college campuses. DACA is seen as potentially threatened under Trump.

Leahy received considerable criticism this fall for not commenting on the vandalism of a parking lot sign in the Mod Lot with a homophobic slur. The silence prompted several student groups to organize a march through campus in September called “Silence is Violence.” In an interview in October, University Spokesman Jack Dunn said that Leahy believes BC’s role is to teach students how to think, and not what to think, and therefore refrains from commenting on political issues that some students think he should address.

Leahy’s last letter to the BC community came in May 2014, when he sent an end-of-year update outlining several key hirings, announcing some changes to facilities, reviewing tuition changes and student aid figures, and recapping some faculty and student academic achievements.

“Boston College was founded in 1863 to educate the children of immigrants and, like our nation, has gained so much from the presence and contributions of faculty, students, and staff born in other countries,” the three wrote. “We are committed to ensuring that all at Boston College feel safe and valued, and that they are aware of the many resources available to them on campus.”

Below is the full text of the administrators’ email:

Featured Image Courtesy of the Office of News and Public Affairs


LTE: A Response to “To Move Forward, Eradicate Must Acknowledge Efforts”

Yesterday, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. took action on one of 16 demands that over 1,400 Boston College community members have petitioned for in the “Call to Make Boston College a Sanctuary Campus.” This caption was posted on Eradicate Boston College Racism’s Facebook page on Nov. 30 to contextualize our support of the Sanctuary Campus petition which enumerates concrete steps that BC’s administration should take to protect undocumented students and has been signed by hundreds of BC students, faculty, and staff. On Dec. 1, we released a detailed comparison of the Pomona College and ACCU Statements (which Fr. Leahy has signed) and the far more comprehensive and binding AJCU Statement, noting that Boston College is the only institution in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities that has not signed this statement.

Therefore, when The Heights claimed in its Dec. 5 editorial that Eradicate “should have acknowledged Leahy’s action,” it was unclear what sort of acknowledgment was expected. Should Dec. 1’s rally in support of the Sanctuary Campus petition have adopted a celebratory tone because one of its 16 demands had been met?

Incidentally, The Heights’ claim that Eradicate authored the petition is flattering, but incorrect. The petition was initiated by a group of law students who solicited feedback from an array of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty. The Graduate Student Senate and Undergraduate Government of BC were involved from the petition’s inception. The resulting document reflects the desires of hundreds of members of BC’s community, as evidenced by the hundreds of signatures it has collected.

Eradicate is often criticized for our perceived failure to cooperate with the administration. However, Eradicate’s attempts to work through the institution have been ineffectual. In Oct. 2015, the Provost’s office stepped in at the last second to block a flyer we had created to help promote a conversation series on race. This past September, when we attempted to register a solidarity march, our application was denied, and we were told that we could not register events because we were not an official campus organization. We were not told that individuals could register events until Dec. 1. Repeated attempts to use official channels have shown us that we can work most effectively as an extra-institutional organization—jumping through the administration’s hoops is a distraction from the more important work of advocating for vulnerable students.

The rally on Dec. 1 was our attempt to support two existing movements in solidarity with undocumented students: the Sanctuary Campus petition and the national movement organized by Cosecha. Our status as an extra-institutional, “undocumented” organization allows us to create a space of resistance that complements the efforts of other groups that work closely with the administration. Until these officially recognized groups succeed in implementing policies that protect and support vulnerable students, we will continue to create spaces of sanctuary, resistance, and healing for the oppressed through direct action.

Eradicate BC Racism

Amelie Daigle, GMCAS ’18

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

To Move Forward, Eradicate Must Acknowledge Efforts

University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. signed two statements on Tuesday concerning Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 that helps to protect undocumented students from deportation. The two petitions, from Pomona College and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), established the University’s support of immigrant students. Leahy’s actions followed Eradicate Boston College Racism’s release of a petition calling for BC to be made a sanctuary campus. Universities across the country are debating this question following President-elect Donald Trump’s threat to overturn some of Obama’s executive orders, which could include DACA.

Leahy signed the two statements the day before Eradicate’s planned walkout protest, which was originally organized to call for the University to declare support for its immigrant students. Eradicate carried out the protest despite Leahy’s decision to sign the statements, instead criticizing the University specifically for not supporting a statement released by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU). The group also called for BC to take more concrete steps to support minority groups and undocumented immigrants on campus.

It is worth noting that BC has abstained from signing statements from the AJCU in the past, such as a 2013 statement supporting undocumented students. Eradicate maintains that the AJCU statement in question indicates a larger and necessary commitment on the University’s behalf to the protection of minority students. A chart released on Facebook by the group portrays the Pomona College and ACCU statements as inadequate, as Eradicate believes that only the AJCU statement fully protects students from the implications of the law based on their immigration status.

While it was appropriate for Eradicate to still carry out a demonstration, since it was a part of a larger national protest, and there is undeniably still progress to be made in protecting immigrant students at BC, the organization should have acknowledged Leahy’s action. Students called for Leahy to make BC a sanctuary campus and signing the Pomona and ACCU statements was a step in the right direction. The protesters, and Eradicate by association, may lose some of their credibility by not explicitly making it clear that they acknowledge what Leahy did when rallying to promote further action on campus. This could further alienate the administration and possibly members of student body from supporting its cause.

Because the initial intention of the protest was to decry the University’s lack of expressed support for DACA and minority students, the impact of the event was lessened due to Eradicate’s lack of recognition for Leahy’s support of DACA, which came just before the event. While not holding the walkout would represent an unwise concession on the organization’s behalf, the BC administration is more likely to support and have a positive response to Eradicate protests in the future if it receives the recognition that it deserves for meeting student demands, even if only partially. Cooperation and dialogue between these two entities is essential to the creation of a diverse campus in which students from all backgrounds feel welcome.

Many students feel that the BC administration has not done enough in the past to be conscious of and to react to the issues put forth by minority student groups. Eradicate’s message of the importance of issues of race on campus and creating a more inclusive university for all is still relevant and deserving of a platform for expression. The group is an important influence on campus in promoting mutual respect, and is leading the way forward for positive change.

In the future, it is important for Eradicate to recognize that holding such a protest without explicitly acknowledging the University’s positive initiatives could compromise the integrity and legitimacy of future demonstrations. While protests are important in bringing about change, it is paramount that the organization work with the University administration, and not against it, if its goals are to ever come close to fruition.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

LTE: A Response to Leahy’s Signing of DACA Statements

When Boston College released the news that University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J. signed a statement supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, many were overjoyed that the university had chosen to stand with the undocumented and larger immigrant community. This news followed the release of the petition “Call for Boston College to become a Sanctuary Campus,” which has been signed by over 1,500 community members. After months of rising hateful rhetoric, members of our community could not help but feel that Leahy was making good on the school’s Jesuit mission.

The devil is in the details, however—Leahy’s signature on the Pomona College statement does not change the reality that many undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients, may soon face: mass detention and deportation.

The Sanctuary Campus movement has spread to hundreds of universities across the country.  Rallies and petitions from students, faculty, staff, and alumni have put pressure on the leadership of institutions to take concrete actions to protect undocumented immigrant students who attend their campuses. If university leaders fail to supplement their stated support of undocumented students with material protections, their signatures are little more than a hollow gesture meant to placate the movement.

We must demand more than gestures if our goal is to actually protect students. As outlined in the petition, BC can—and should—provide holistic legal, financial, health, and mental health support for immigrant students, faculty, and staff. BC must commit to deny Immigration and Customs Enforcement access to university property if we truly want to protect students. The university can open the doors of St. Joseph’s Chapel, St. Mary’s Chapel, and Trinity Chapel by designating them part of the Sanctuary Church network. Finally, as a leader in the Jesuit community, BC should encourage the parish council and pastor of St. Ignatius Parish to do the same.

In his famous “Men for Others” address, Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. tells us that the principle of justice is cultivated by three attitudes: Live More Simply, No Unjust Profit, and Change Unjust Structures. The call for BC to become a Sanctuary Campus is deeply aligned with all three of these attitudes. Declaring BC a Sanctuary Campus is an act of justice—one that we must continue to demand.

Kevin Ferreira, LGSOE ’18

Chad Olle, LGSOE ’18

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

LTE: 20 MCAS Chairs Respond to Leahy’s Signing of DACA Statements

We stand together with Boston College President, Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., who has signed an open letter (along with 435 other college and university presidents and chancellors) urging the continuation and expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This program protects the over 700,000 individuals who entered the United States as undocumented immigrants when they were children, by ‘granting them two-year renewable work permits and deferral of deportation proceedings. This program is under threat from President-Elect Donald Trump, who has said that he will end the program.

The text of the open letter is below:

The core mission of higher education is the advancement of knowledge, people and society. As educational leaders, we are committed to upholding free inquiry and education in our colleges and universities, and to providing the opportunity for all our students to pursue their learning and life goals.

Since the advent of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2012, we have seen the critical benefits of this program for our students, and the highly positive impacts on our institutions and communities. DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community. With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech and the nonprofit sector; they have gone to medical school, law school, and graduate schools in numerous disciplines. They are actively contributing to their local communities and economies.

To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community.

They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.

We call on our colleagues and other leaders across the business, civic, religious and nonprofit sectors to join with us in this urgent matter.

Ellen Winner, Chair, Department of Psychology

Kevin Kenny, Chair, Department of History

Michael J. Naughton, Chair, Department of Physics

Franck Salameh, Chair, Department of Slavic and Eastern Languages and Literatures

Michael Resler, Chair, German Studies Department

Franco Mormando, Chair, Romance Languages

Sarah Babb, Chair, Department Sociology

Kendra Eshleman, Chair, Department of Classical Studies

Hideo Konishi, Chair, Department of Economics

Robert Meyerhoff, Chair, Department of Mathematics

Ethan Baxter, Chair, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences

Amy Boesky, Chair, English

Michael Noone, Chair, Music Department

Susan Shell, Chair, Department of Political Science

Claude Cernuschi, Chair, Art, Art History, Film

Richard Gaillardetz, Chair, Theology Dept.

Marc Snapper, Vice Chair, Department of Chemistry

Lisa Cuklanz, Chair, Communication Department

Crystal Tiala, Chair, Theatre Department

Sergio Alvarez, Chair, Computer Science Department

Featured Image Courtesy of Matthew Bellico

Leahy Signs Statements Supporting DACA, Protecting Undocumented Students

University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., signed a statement Tuesday that affirms Boston College’s commitment to upholding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive action signed by President Barack Obama in 2012 that gives protected status to undocumented students. DACA is threatened in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, who said he plans to repeal several of Obama’s executive orders, which could include DACA, in his first 100 days in office.

Leahy signed two statements specifically, the first from Pomona College and the second from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

“This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity,” reads the Pomona statement. “America needs talent—and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community.”

Leahy’s action follows the release of a petition yesterday that called on the University to declare BC a sanctuary campus for undocumented immigrants and other groups, such as Muslims, who Trump has targeted. Members of Eradicate Boston College Racism launched the petition, which says there is fear among some students that they could be directly affected by Trump’s actions.

“In light of very real and immediate threats faced by members of our community, we ask the university to commit to defending diversity and inclusivity and to upholding Boston College’s Jesuit values by declaring Boston College a sanctuary campus,” reads the petition, which was written by several students who incorporated language used in similar petitions at other schools.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the Pomona statement had been signed by 380 presidents of U.S. colleges and universities. Since the election, several mayors have declared their cities “sanctuary cities,” signaling their intention to resist any attempts by the Trump administration at mass deportation of undocumented immigrants. Somerville, Mass. is an official sanctuary city.  Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, WCAS ’09, said after the election that Boston already has significant sanctuary policies in place—Boston police do not participate in deportation efforts—and does not currently plan to alter them.

“We are a welcoming city for all and are committed to fostering an environment where all members of our community have opportunities to contribute and thrive,” Walsh said in a statement Nov. 14. “Those are Boston’s values and no policy will change them.”

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

Correction: The article originally stated that Natali Soto, BC Law ’17, wrote the petition. The petition was written by multiple students.

The Impact of Leahy’s 20-Year Presidency on Boston College

In 2005, nine years into his term as the 25th president of Boston College, University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., addressed faculty and administration at the yearly Convocation, like he does every year. That year, he spoke about the next phase in the University’s development, focusing on three points: “where we have come from,” “where should we be going,” and “what will our future be.” Leahy pointed out the academic growth, geographic diversity, and increase in students who identify as AHANA.

“We are a success story in American higher education,” he said at the time.

In the 10 years prior, and the 10 years after that statement, the University has grown academically, physically, and—more slowly and begrudgingly—socially, all the while led by a president that can be hard to pin down. More than one administrator has said that Leahy never stops being president of BC, putting in 100 hours each week. Leahy, administrators have said, never forgets what his goals are—through and through, he is unwaveringly, singlemindedly committed to the University. Yet, through protests, columns, and letters to the editor in The Heights, many students in the last two decades have noted Leahy’s inaccessibility to the student body.


This fall marks Leahy’s 20th year as the president of the University. This is what has changed.

(Leahy declined a request for an interview submitted via the Office of News & Public Affairs. He also declined interview requests about his 20th anniversary from Boston College Magazine and the Office of News & Public Affairs.)

In 1996, Leahy arrived at BC from his former position as executive vice president at Marquette University. Back then, the acceptance rate for incoming freshmen was 37 percent. Since then, the applicant pool has increased from 16,680 to 29,486, and the acceptance rate has dropped to as low as 29 percent. But even before that, John Mahoney was here. In 1990, he became the director of the Office of Undergraduate Admission, a position he has held ever since.

Mahoney cited three key reasons for BC’s rise in the academic world since 1996. First, the academic reputation has improved. With the 1999 arrival of Alan Wolfe, a political science professor who Mahoney described as a “public intellectual,” and the 2001 hiring of prolific author Juliet Schor to teach in the sociology department, the University became a destination for faculty members. Wolfe was the first director of the Boisi Center for Religious and Public Life, and had been at Boston University before coming to BC.

“The impact, in so many ways, put Boston College on the map as a powerful academic institution,” Mahoney said.


The relationship between the applicant pool and the academic reputation of the faculty is something of a chicken and egg situation: with better faculty come more qualified students, and with more qualified students, the academic reputation of a school increases, and more faculty are inclined to come.

“We’re attracting a larger applicant pool. We’re attracting a more qualified applicant pool,” he said. “We are enrolling a more talented student body today than 20 years ago.”

Mahoney noted some other things that have upped the academic quality of the school in the last 20 years. The Institute for the Liberal Arts, begun in 2008, funds interdisciplinary, unique projects like Joycestick, a multidisciplinary effort to create a virtual reality video game. And in 2015, the Shea Center for Entrepreneurship opened its doors to students interested in a career at a startup.

But it takes more than brilliant faculty and niche centers for a University to climb up in the rankings. What it takes to draw students in is a picture-perfect, coordinated, social media-ready campus. And that is exactly what Leahy wanted to accomplish. Mahoney points to the expanded physical campus as an important factor in the more competitive admissions process. Under Leahy’s tenure, Maloney Hall and Stokes Hall were both built. In Stokes, amid the gleaming wood and buzzing chatter from the cafe, tour guides typically pause to talk to their groups about the benefits of BC’s rigorous liberal arts education. The building is a hallmark for BC’s commitment to the liberal arts, and an attractive one. Higgins Hall, a centerpiece for many science and nursing classes, has also been renovated, and so has Gasson Hall, the University’s trademark. These renovations were part of the 10-Year Master Plan that began in 2008.

The third element Mahoney noted is BC’s religious grounding. The Center for Ignatian Spirituality, established in 1997, helped to foster an increased religious consciousness on campus. He said that as BC becomes stronger academically, it is critical that its Jesuit values are not left behind. Former University President J. Donald Monan, S.J. was the architect of the modern BC, Mahoney said, and Leahy was the builder.

“It’s Father Leahy talking to upper-level admin, and talking to trustees and all of that wisdom has to be collected, priorities have to be set, fundraising goals have to be established,” he said. “He’s the nexus … decision-making has to happen at that very high level to determine what direction we want to go in, how we want to achieve excellence.”

But the rigorous academics, postcard campus, and core morals will only go so far if the Admission Office can’t reach potential applicants. So, in the last two decades, under the directorship of Mahoney, things have changed.

A broader applicant pool necessitates a broader geographical area from which to pull students. Between the early 1990s and about 2010, the Admissions Office particularly pushed to recruit more students from the western and southern states. Recruiters also travel to Asia, Europe, and South America to entice foreign students, whose numbers have nearly doubled as a proportion of the student body. They have also begun to recruit more aggressively on social media with a partnership with the Office from News and Public Affairs.

The efforts have paid off: the median SAT score of a BC student has gone from between 1150 and 1300, in 1996, to between 1300 and 1440, in 2016. There were 24 faculty chairs in 1996, and 84 now. Three and a half percent of students were international in 1996, and now international students make up 6.1 percent of the total student body. Alumni chapters have sprung up in Sao Paulo; Madrid; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Tokyo, among other cities.

And as the University continues to grow and to attract the best and brightest students from around the country and the world, it has jumped up in the rankings. From 37 to 30 in the U.S. News and World Report represents a significant jump, Mahoney said. It might be harder to get up into the top 25 or even 30: those schools in the elite category tend to stay in the same position. These schools have long-established, powerful academic reputations and larger endowments, which presents a particular challenge to the Office of Admissions.

“We are the window to the University, to so many people,” he said.

BC’s Light the World campaign exceeded its $1.5 billion goal this June, and reached $1.6 billion, the highest amount of money raised in a campaign since the University’s inception. Light the World raised more than triple the amount of money of the last financial campaign—Ever to Excel, which ran from 1997 to 2003, raised a comparatively paltry $441 million. One hundred forty thousand parents, alumni, and friends contributed to the campaign, which began in 2008. The two capital campaigns that ran during Leahy’s presidency raised over $2.41 billion combined.

Georgetown University is BC’s biggest rival for applicants. Its last capital campaign, which ended this October, also raised about $1.6 billion, though it began in 2006.

BC’s successful campaign designates its funds to specific divisions: academic excellence, financial aid, Jesuit Catholic heritage and student formation, athletics, facilities, annual giving, and a category for donations that are pending designation. Some of the categories were overshot, notably athletics, which raised over $136 million, well above its original goal of $100 million.

From this campaign, $247 million will go to financial aid.

In 2005, Leahy noted that one of his goals was to grow the endowment, which in 1996, upon his arrival, stood at $600 million. Now, the endowment is at $2.2 billion, significantly over Georgetown’s $1.5 billion. The endowment provides support for BC’s institutional success—money from it goes toward research, faculty chairs, and student formation programs. The money from Light the World is distinct from the endowment.


Despite the fundraising successes of the University, Senior Vice President for University Advancement James Husson noted that there is still work that could be done. He hopes to get more alumni donating yearly to the University. Right now, about 85 percent of seniors contribute to the class gift, which is up from 27 percent in 1996. Husson did not disclose the number of alumni who contributed to the capital campaign, but noted that one of the challenges faced by the Advancement Office is reaching alumni who are too busy to have an active relationship with BC.

“Our community of alumni, parents and friends were motivated by a desire to partner with the University to achieve these goals and experienced the Campaign as a call to action—a rallying cry that brought us all together to strengthen a University that means so much to so many,” Husson said in an email.

Annual giving reached $128.4 million this past year. When Leahy took over in 1996, $24.7 million was being gifted to the University each year.

The money from the Light the World campaign, and previous ones, make it possible to implement a 10-Year Master Plan. Right now, the University is in the middle of a Master Plan that was first submitted to the city for approval in June 2008. One of the foremost points of the Master Plan involves moving all undergraduates into on-campus housing, which would make the University the first in Boston to do so. Another proposal is the integrated science center, which would augment the scientific research on campus and push the University into a higher academic echelon.

Campus has expanded beyond Main Campus since Leahy’s arrival. Perhaps most significantly, the University acquired the 43 acres that now makes up the Brighton Campus. Formerly the site of Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law’s residence—now the remodeled McMullen Museum of Art—the purchase was a watershed moment for the University and a necessary symbolic change for victims of the sexual abuse scandal in Boston perpetuated by Law.  

In addition, the Yawkey Athletics Center was completed in 2003, the Connors Retreat Center in Dover, Mass., was renovated in 2005, Maloney Hall was completed in 2011, and the Cadigan Alumni Center and Stokes Hall were both completed in 2012. Three buildings finished construction in 2016: 2150 Commonwealth Avenue, 2000 Commonwealth Avenue, and the McMullen Museum.

All told, BC has expanded from 185 acres to 338, and from 90 buildings to 159.

Many of the administrative offices have moved across Commonwealth Avenue to the Brighton Campus, where the School of Theology and Ministry is also located. With the recent acquisition of nine acres of land on Hammond Pond Parkway, more offices are poised to move off of Main Campus, though none have specifically been named.

“To have doubled our size, and to have acquired land that was adjacent to our main campus, was an enormous boon to the growth possibilities for Boston College,” said Vice President for Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment Kelli Armstrong.

Under Leahy’s administration, planning for the future of the University has taken a more data-centric approach, according to Armstrong, who began at BC 12 years ago as an institutional researcher. Data includes benchmarking peer institutions, showing the demonstrated need for the investment, and mapping outcomes.

The University is constantly in the middle of writing or implementing a strategic plan, with new plans being written in the middle of every decade. When Leahy began as university president in 1996, he was tasked with implementing the strategic plan of the mid ’90s, as part of the University Academic Planning Committee (UAPC). As the University headed into the 21st century, the UAPC sought to develop BC’s academic programs, through the promotion of graduate and professional education in the University and the support of research as central to the mission of BC.

“The council’s recommendations emphasize rigorous intellectual development and personal formation as the distinctive marks of a Boston College undergraduate education,” reads a 1996 issue of The Heights.

Funding from the UAPC allowed for new academic programs that made BC a national competitor with other institutions of higher education.

“The UAPC—that is, the plan of the ’90s—really made us a research university,” said former Vice Provost for Faculties Patricia DeLeeuw. “We have been building on that plan ever since.”

Beyond the implementation of the UAPC, DeLeeuw counts the steady growth in national rank, the creation of Church in the 21st Century Center, the increase in the endowment and number of endowed chairs among the faculty, and the renewed commitment to diversity as key successes of Leahy’s tenure.

“All these marks of a great university have happened during his tenure,” DeLeeuw said.

Now the institutional and financial future of BC rests in the hands of the University Strategic Planning Initiative, which will identify which facets of the University the next capital campaign should focus on. Looking ahead, University Advancement has not yet determined a focus, or even a name, for the next capital campaign.

“We want to follow the lead of the current strategic planning process and take the time to engage our constituencies in those outcomes as they develop,” Husson said. “This dialogue will inform the priorities and timing of the next comprehensive campaign.”

When DeLeeuw began as a faculty member in the theology department in December of 1979, Boston College was a very different institution.

“BC was smaller, and frankly, it felt more like a community, because it was a smaller, less complex place,” DeLeeuw said. “Fondly, we called it a ‘mom-and-pop’ operation. It was more sophisticated than that, but it had that kind of mom-and-pop feeling about it.”

Similarly, Sharlene Hesse-Biber joined the faculty in the late 1970s, as a demographer and assistant professor in the sociology department. For Hesse-Biber, the University presented a chilly climate for women and minorities.

At that time, the University was a regional school, made up of mostly commuter students from the New England area and faculty who, in most cases, were from the Boston area and had been undergraduates at BC. BC had gone fully coeducational in all undergraduate programs just nine years prior, in 1970.

“Nobody was really asking about gender when I came here,” Hesse-Biber said. “Nobody was asking about issues of diversity or women’s achievement when I came here. And this is not just unique to Boston College, these issues were going on across the spectrum of colleges.”

Decades later, women now comprise 54 percent of the student body. The regional ‘mom-and-pop operation’ of the late ’70s would become a nationally ranked research university, with a student body and faculty demographic that reaches far beyond the New England area.

Eventually, DeLeeuw would go on to become the associate dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and, later, vice provost—a post she held for 17 years, until her retirement last May. In these 37 years, DeLeeuw witnessed the institutional fabric of the University grow, change, and diversify to meet the needs of the time. DeLeeuw credits much of this growth to the strategic institutional planning of the past 20 years, under the leadership of Leahy.

As a Catholic university, we are the place where the Catholic Church does its thinking, and Fr. Leahy recognized that BC could become a real leader in imagining what the Catholic Church should look like in the 21st centuryin a university setting, where it’s an intellectual enterprise, thinking about the church,” DeLeeuw said. The Church in the 21st Century was created as a way to address Church reforms after hundreds came forward about sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese.

As vice provost, DeLeeuw was tasked with promoting diversity within the faculty, an aim that has informed the hiring process. Institutional diversity has become an increasingly significant priority—and challenge—for the University. This comes at a time when race is at the forefront of the discussion on college campuses nationwide, seen in the wave of student protests and student activism across universities and on BC’s campus. As a nationally ranked university, BC shares the priority of diversity among faculty and students with many other institutions of higher education.

In order to educate our students adequately for the 21st century, the University has to look like the world, and the demographics of the world are changing,” DeLeeuw said. “The University has to keep up with that.”

In an effort to address this aim, some institutions, like Brown University, have outlined strategic plans to create a more inclusive and diverse faculty. Georgetown announced in September that descendants of slaves would be given preferential status in the admissions process, a strategic and highly lauded step to atone for the institution’s past—in 1838, the Jesuits who led Georgetown sold 272 slaves to pay the university’s debts, which many attribute to its survival. In January 2015, UGBC called upon the University to create a comprehensive plan to address problems of race on campus.

While BC has not created any strategic plan to address diversity, DeLeeuw cited the notable increase of faculty of color as indicative of the University’s commitment to diversity. In 2000, AHANA faculty comprised 11 percent of the total faculty. Currently, AHANA faculty make up 16 percent of the total faculty, and the faculty pool has grown to include nearly 200 new full-time faculty positions since 2000. Throughout her tenure as vice provost, AHANA faculty were 25 to 35 percent of the new faculty hired each year.

While these statistics speak to an increased commitment to diversity, the experience of faculty and students of color on campus remains divisive, with several rallies and protests against institutional racism. For Hesse-Biber, the University’s relationship with diversity has improved over the years, though there is still much work to be done at the structural and institutional level.

“This idea is that we have the numbers, but what have we done to make real structural change at the University level?” Hesse-Biber said. “We need to dig deep into structure—it’s hard to change those core things.”

Since first arriving at the University in the late ’70s, Hesse-Biber, a professor of sociology and director of the Women’s Studies & Gender Studies Program, has studied the experience of minorities and students of color at the University. The institutional climate toward women was not always welcoming, Hesse-Biber said, as her research reflects. A 2012 survey found that female students report lower self-confidence at the end of their senior year at BC than they do at the beginning of their time. In her earliest years at BC, Hesse-Biber researched the divergent, gendered patterns in men’s and women’s career planning, the collegiate classroom experience for women, and racial identity for African-American women on campus. She found that women were often outperforming men academically, yet their experience was one of being silenced in the classroom.

“It was co-ed, in terms of having women on campus, but had the structures really accommodated women’s needs?” Hesse-Biber said. “And here we’re talking about gender on a binary, men and women—never to mention what kind of women, or what kind of men. We didn’t talk about gender identity.”

Presently, women comprise more than half of the student body, and there has been considerable improvement in the institutional commitment to women and minorities. Hesse-Biber notes the creation of the women and gender studies minor program in 1990 and the founding of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center as markers of progress in the University’s commitment to diversity.

“All of those issues have been really flipped, in so many ways, as we fast forward decades later,” said Hesse-Biber. “We do have LGTBQ and AHANA [students], but, in reality, have we dealt with the real issues of diversity on campus?”

Hesse-Biber noted the need for increased funding, oversight, and accountability for the institutional structures currently in place that support AHANA and LGBTQ students. For the women and gender studies program, she noted, increased financial support is necessary to create a broader curriculum that addresses more aspects of gender identity, such as transgender studies.

“We have complex genders and sexual identities, and we need to address those issues without compromising people’s ability to feel comfortable in their gender and with their sexuality,” she said.

In the spring of 1997, five months after Leahy’s October inauguration, the University’s student-run Catholic newspaper, The Observer of Boston College, published a cartoon that depicted three scenes: the KKK, a Nazi rally, and an abortion clinic. The title of the cartoon was “Which one kills more blacks?”

Sparked by the cartoon, students held a town hall discussion, and then groups of students banded together to rally. The group started small. But then it grew, and soon the incident became about more than just the cartoon. Leahy was one of the administrators who spoke at the town hall. In a Heights archive photo, a younger Leahy vigorously gestures among a crowd of students. He commended the student body by saying that they showed “admirable civility,” and expressed his hope that the student body can convey differences.

“I know racism exists on campus,” he said.

This fall, after a sign in the Mod Lot was vandalized with an anti-gay slur, students came together to protest from several different stripes of activism: LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, and students of color came together in a march around campus. The swarm of young people was flanked by Dean of Students Thomas Mogan and Vice President of Student Affairs Barbara Jones. Though they were not standing in solidarity, exactly, they were there—a meaningful act at a protest called Silence Is Violence. The protest was aimed at the sign, on one level, but on another level, it was aimed at the lack of institutional response from high levels of the administration. Namely, Leahy.

But he hasn’t always been so silent. In the early years, at least, The Heights recorded several times that he spoke with students on their level. He held roundtable discussions. He wrote at least one letter to the community discouraging racism. When, in the fall of 1998, he addressed the undergraduate community at the first student Convocation—an event he started—The Heights noticed that it was the first time in two years he had made a public address, and that that was momentous. But then, a few weeks later, he attended a town meeting hosted by student leaders representing the AHANA and LGBTQ communities to condemn a recent act of hate speech.

In the early years, then, his response to campus activism is spotty, but there. By fall of 1999, the campus attitude seemed to have turned more sour. Many of the problems that the “Silence is Violence” march focused on were noted as early as that year.

“We have a president that you can only meet if you hold some leadership role at this school,” one student wrote in a letter to the editor in The Heights. “I would not recognize Fr. Leahy if he walked up to me in the Mods and slapped a beer out of my hand.

In 2000, in a column in The Heights, a student wrote, “I wonder, Father Leahy, if you truly are a moral man, yet let the race problem on this campus persist.” And in a humorous list of tips for freshmen from September 2001, Leahy is noted as the “least-seen individual on campus.”

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Leahy wrote an email to the campus community that was reprinted in The Heights and appeared on a panel in Boston hosted in conjunction with The Atlantic. And then, in 2002, when the Globe broke the news of a sexual assault scandal, Leahy wrote an editorial in the Globe about “the joy of the priesthood,” according to an editorial in The Heights that expounded Leahy for not being critical enough about the problem of sexual abuse in the clergy. The editorial also noted that Leahy’s piece was especially notable because he is generally so publically reticent. In response, University Spokesman Jack Dunn, who has been the director of public affairs since 1998, wrote a letter back in April 2002.

“Sometimes, in the face of adversity, students must discern for themselves what is right and what is wrong and reach their own conclusions about the subtleties and complexities of life,” Dunn wrote. “This is what education and self-discovery is all about, and it is, above all else, what we as your teachers, administrators and admirers expect of you.”

This response is a shift from Leahy’s earliest days as president, when it seems as though he actively sat among students to communicate with them. Global events in the early 2000s, like the Iraq war, compelled students to call upon Leahy for a response condemning the war. He chose not to make a statement, instead attending a peaceful prayer ceremony. However, a few years later, in 2004, he addressed the entire student body about the forthcoming Master Plan and land acquisitions at an event sponsored by UGBC.

But the lack of public response on largely social and political issues, and Dunn’s assertion that this is Leahy’s way of compelling students to make their own decisions, is consistent with the administrative response to activism today. Last month, The Heights asked Dunn what Leahy’s rationale is for staying so silent on issues, like race, LGBTQ rights, and global affairs, that are so important to students.

“[Leahy’s] belief is that students should discern for themselves what’s right and wrong and formulate their own opinions, and that they’re best suited to do that independent of comments, statements, or letters from faculty, staff, and administrators,” Dunn said. “We have every faith that our students can make their appropriate judgments. … We’re not an elementary school where the principal can send a note home.”  

Consistently during Leahy’s tenure, students have felt otherwise. A 2006 column states that a University president ought to lead by example by making public statements about hateful events on campus—in this case, the writer is referring to an event where a young, black, male BC student was assaulted. In that same issue, in reference to the attack, the president wrote a letter to the editor calling upon students to treat each other with respect and report any similar incidents. And 10 years after that incident, the Silence Is Violence march demanded much the same thing of the University’s most-powerful, least-known administrator after the act of anti-gay hate speech. That time, however, the president’s office was publicly silent. Instead, Mogan addressed the defaced sign in a letter authorized by Leahy, and offered resources to members of the student body who wished to speak about the event.


The most recent letter to the editor written by Leahy was after the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013. Then, he wrote to encourage students to come together in prayer to honor the lives of those killed. The last campus-wide email sent out by the president was in December 2013, when he encouraged students to attend a baccalaureate Mass to celebrate the close of BC’s 150-year anniversary activities. Since then, he has not publicly addressed issues of activism on campus, or issues of national importance, as he once did, closer to the beginning of his tenure.

“Faculty have noted that the president has historically been the least responsive to activism that has a lot of publicity that is critical of the University,” said theology professor John McDargh, who has been at BC for 37 years.

McDargh noted that other Jesuit universities seem to have less of a problem surrounding campus conversation on activism because they have been proactive on social issues, rather than reactive. He cited the example of Georgetown, which installed a Gay and Lesbian Resource Center in 2008 after a hate crime against a gay student on campus.

But, in spite of consistent communication issues between the student body and the administration, two important pieces of activism have occurred on campus under Leahy’s tenure. First, in 2003, he approved a gay-straight alliance called Allies after significant campus activism. And, in 2005, Leahy approved an addition of sexual orientation into the non-discrimination clause, after a referendum by UGBC indicated 84 percent student support.

Though his voice is largely absent from student-run campus media, Leahy has sat down with The Heights a few times. A profile written in 2005 focuses on his journey to BC, his goal of growing the University endowment, and his regret that he cannot spend as much time with students as he was able to at Marquette University, when he lived in a residence hall for five years.

Most recently, in 2009, he spoke to The Heights about his role as an adviser to several students. Neither article touched on his response strategy to divisive campus issues.

The 2009 article reads:

“Leahy says he does take the time to understand the interests and goals of the students he interacts with. However, constraints on his time make it impossible to engage with as many students as he would like. ‘It’s all a function of time,’ he said. ‘As I’ve said to a number of students, there are 9,000 undergrads and only one of me.’”

Featured Image by Matthew Bellico / Office of University Advancement

Images and graphics by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor;  Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor; Heights Archives