In response to growing national and international interest in the Belfast Project legal case, the Boston College chapter of the American Association for University Professors (BCAAUP) has sent a letter to the Board of Trustees and the president, as well as started a petition to create a third party committee to investigate the research that occurred during the Belfast Project.
In the letter, BCAAUP suggested that the committee include “a representative of the American Historical Association; an expert on archival management or oral history; a journalist who is acquainted with questions of journalistic ethics or methods of historical research; and the chair of the History Department.”
The letter, endorsed by a vote of the membership of BCAAUP on Feb. 27 and dated Mar. 3, was released to the public after BCAAUP received no response from the president’s office or the Board of Trustees.
“Father Leahy has asked David Quigley [Dean of Arts and Sciences] to respond to the members of the executive committee of BCAAUP who sent the petition,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn. Quigley’s response to the BCAAUP is forthcoming.
“In light of recent press reports about the Belfast Oral History Project, we write to you out of a concern for the reputation of Boston College. Recent reports have raised serious questions about the research procedures of the Belfast Oral History Project and whether they may have violated professional standards,” the letter began.
Susan Michalczyk, adjunct associate professor in the A&S Honors program and president of BCAAUP, said that the association wrote the letter in the hope of investigating the Belfast research project more closely.
“The fundamental purpose [of the letter] was a reaction to the suggestion that what had been done didn’t make [Boston College] look good,” Michalczyk said. “We responded to faculty outside the executive board who brought the issue to our attention and said, ‘Look, there might be a problem here.'”
Beyond concern for the University as a whole, Michalczyk said that BCAAUP hopes that an investigation would provide a more stable background for the numerous professionals that have been discussing the Belfast case regularly.
“What needs to be done to stop gossip, rumors, and questions?” Michalczyk asked. “What do we need to do to ensure that we remain the institution with the integrity we’ve had in regards to academic research?”
Dunn stated that the University has reviewed the project at length. “Boston College’s legal counsel reviewed the issue raised in the petition and concluded that the project, as an oral history project, did not meet the definition of human subjects research and therefore did not require IRB approval,” Dunn said. “A review of the administrative practices on accepting materials in the Burns Library is currently underway. While the university recognizes that the complexities of this project have caused frustration, and misunderstanding, a futher review is not considered necessary.”
Michalczyk said that the topic of the Belfast Project was brought up by a faculty member outside the board of BCAAUP who approached the committee hoping to discuss the issue. After a draft letter was brought to a meeting of the association, the executive board spent much time deliberating over the language to use in the letter to get across the point they were trying to make.
“The reason was to maintain the University’s integrity, not devalue or bring scandal. That’s key, because it’s too easy for people to say, ‘Oh, they’re just complaining,’ or ‘They just want to cause trouble,’ but that was not the intention.”
Michalczyk said that the BCAAUP hoped the letter and subsequent petition would be able to bring the University together to discuss the issues at hand.
“Fundamentally, our hope would be that the University work more closely together, both administration and faculty-that we can respect one another and work together as professionals,” Michalczyk said. “There’s no hidden agenda here. We are not policymakers, and we’re not taking a side on whether or not they did the right or wrong thing.”