- Just what is it that academics have to fear if they stand up for common decency, instead of letting campus barbarians run amok? - Thomas Sowell
Boston College has provisionally offered to return all research material to the interviewees who donated it under the auspices of the college’s Belfast Project. Rather than being driven by a genuine concern for the donors this is a self-serving response to two events. The largely negative public glare the college has fallen under in the wake of the arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams; and the college’s own history department putting clear blue sea between it and the college’s management of the Belfast project, which it was never involved with to begin with.
The project became a potato too hot for the college to handle once Adams was arrested. Jack Dunn, under pressure to both cosy up and cover up argued:
Gerry Adams and others have accused Anthony McIntyre of interviewing individuals who had animus towards Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership. Gerry Adams’ criticism of Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre is shared by many on both sides of the Atlantic.
Had the college acted when requested three years ago to take action that would have protected the archive by either destroying everything that had not been subpoenaed or by signing it over to my custody, the current situation would not be anywhere near as precarious and destabilising as it is. The college refused, preferring instead to hold onto material that might be of law enforcement use against its own research participants. It did this despite being warned by me that a second subpoena was almost certain.
In explaining its decision to block any right of return at that stage Boston College’s Director of the Center for Irish Programs in what was surely a specious contention – similar to an initial promise in 2001 to run the proposed donor contract past college legal counsel – cited ‘assurances to the contrary given me by people who were formally schooled in international law.’ He maintained it was their view that no such request could be made unless an interviewee publicly revealed the contents of their interview.
It is now impossible to believe that such advice could have been offered by people familiar with international law. Boston College is now saying it was aware of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty under which the first subpoena was initiated. Who at the college then did know about MLAT if the people formally schooled in international law appeared to have known nothing about it? Simply put, Boston College staff managing the Belfast Project did in 2011 what they had done at the start of the project: they pretended to have sought the view of legal counsel when they patently had not.
Boston College is now engaged in a PR exercise: a symbolic public washing of the hands. Had it been concerned with respecting what is an endangered archive it would have made its right of return offer to each of the interviewees privately. By going public on its position it is merely signalling to the British police that if they do not move quickly enough with a further round of subpoenas, they might lose the opportunity to once again plunder the college’s so called confidential research. The college knows the British could raid again. Jack Dunn admitted as much on BBC Spotlight this week.
As ever, Boston College has played fast and loose with its professed commitment to confidentiality. That much was made clear when it violated the terms of the agreement it had reached with the interviewees when, without permission of the research participants, it handed over all the republican interviews it then possessed to a US judge in December 2011. Its lack of observance was again made manifest by this week’s admission by its press spokesperson on Greater Boston television that he too had read some of the transcripts. He is not a member of the academic staff. What possible reason had the college for allowing him to read confidential transcripts knowing his hostility to the project and his willingness to throw researchers and research participants alike under the bus?
Boston College behaving admirably by making a public offer to return tapes? Not a bit of it. It is doing what it has always done – putting the interests of the institution before the research participants by exposing them to further risk in a bid to preserve its own reputation. It will as surely abandon them again if another subpoena arrives.