Ivana Bacik, a law professor at Trinity College in Dublin and a Labor Party candidate in the 2004 European elections, was due to present a lecture about globalization in Ireland at the Lincoln Center Campus last week.
However, days before she was due to arrive in New York, the institute informed Bacik that her lecture had been cancelled, citing illness of a member of the sponsor family.
Bacik refused an alternative invitation to speak at a private dinner, and wrote a letter of complaint to Fordham’s president, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane S.J., claiming the real reason for her cancellation was because she was involved with abortion advocacy group Safe and Legal in Ireland.
“I’m very sorry to hear that the donor’s wife is ill, but I don’t think it is why the lecture was cancelled,” she said, speaking to the Irish Echo from her office in Dublin.
“A few days prior to the lecture, they contacted me expressing concern and my involvement with pro-choice groups. They wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t talk about abortion. I had no intention of bringing up abortion; it had nothing to do with the lecture. It was only much later that they spoke of illness. It seemed like a retrospective justification,” she said.
Her cancellation prompted Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole to withdraw from a lecture he was scheduled to give at the beginning of November, leaving the much-heralded series in disarray.
Fordham Institute of Irish Studies director Gale Swiontkowski, who allegedly cancelled the lecture under instruction from Lincoln Center Dean Rev. Robert Grimes, confirmed that the executive board will meet on Wednesday, Oct. 5, in an email sent to the Echo. She was unavailable for further comment at the time of going to print.
In a separate statement, the Institute responded angrily to Bacik’s claims.
“Ms. Bacik’s charge rings hollow when one looks at the University, which has no history or wish of censoring speakers,” said Fordham spokesperson Elizabeth Schmaltz.
“Fordham has become an innocent pawn in the advancement of Ms. Bacik’s own political agenda. Fordham did not rescind her invitation to speak, and tried to arrange alternate speaking opportunities for her in a very short period of time. The University has apologized to her for any inconvenience the cancellation of the lecture has caused her. She has refused our invitation to speak and she has refused our apology. It is unfortunate that Mr. O’Toole has decided to cancel his lecture without conversation,” Schmaltz said.
O’Toole, whose lecture was to discuss the cultural and social implications of the Celtic Tiger economy, informed the Institute on Monday afternoon that he would not be attending.
“It seems odd to me to cancel a public lecture based on the illness of one of the sponsors,” he said in an interview with the Echo.
“Given that concerns were raised with Ivana beforehand, it’s hard to believe that her views on abortion had no bearing on their decision to retract the invitation. One of the absolutely critical values of a university is that they be places of open debate. Being in the business of open debate myself, I had no choice. If I went ahead it would be giving my passive approval. It would be as if it didn’t matter and it does matter,” O’Toole said.
The controversy has also sparked concern amongst faculty members, who are concerned about its implications for academic freedom at the Jesuit-run institution.
“What makes it a less than satisfactory explanation is that no effort was made to reschedule the talk,” according to Nancy Curtin, who lectures in history at the Irish institute.
“We’re a university; we’re supposed to embrace controversy, not run away from it. As an Irish historian, does this mean we can’t teach anything after 1950s Ireland when things started to get controversial? We have insulted a major figure in contemporary Ireland. I think it’s going to be devastating for the credibility of the program. We, the faculty, are outraged at this,” she said.
“Without a doubt, it does damage the perception of Fordham,” agreed O’Toole.
“But, if they can sort this out, it will do them a lot of good. If they can discuss these issues resulting in a very clear statement that they are not going to be influenced in their choice of debates by anything other than the validity of the subject, then they can come out a lot stronger.”