Board of Trustees Rejects Petition to Revoke Brennan’s Honorary Degree



John Brennan, Former Director of the CIA, will join Fordham Law School as the Distinguished Fellow for Global Security for the Center on National Security. (PHOTO COURTESY of George Bridges/KRT via TNS)


UPDATED: 09:30 a.m., May 14, 2015

Fordham Faculty Against Torture (FFAT) announced via email on May 12, that the Board of Trustees rejected the petition to revoke Director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) John Brennan’s honorary degree. According to Robert Howe, senior director of communications and special adviser to the president, the Board’s decision was unanimous.

In the email, FFAT stated, “John Brennan’s honorary degree will now permanently stain Fordham’s honor and that of the Society of Jesus.” According to the email, the committee does not have permission to share President Rev. Joseph M. McShane’s, S.J., comments. However, they did say that while the letter announcing the rejection to rescind the degree was “gracious in tone,” it was “disappointing in its message and its reasoning.”

The committee consists of seven professors: Dr. Orlando Rodriguez, professor of sociology and anthropology in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Jeanne Flavin, professor of sociology and anthropology; Dr. Jeannine Hill Fletcher, professor of theology; Dr. Glenn Hendler, associate professor and chair of English; Dr. Bradford Hinze, Rahner Chair and professor of theology; Dr. James Kim, assistant professor of English; and Dr. David Myers, professor of history.

According to Howe, McShane presented the petition to the Board of Trustees earlier this month. The Board opposed any effort to rescind Brennan’s honorary degree. According to Howe, McShane wrote, “While the Board and I condemn torture and extrajudicial imprisonment in the strongest possible terms, as a public servant, Mr. Brennan does not set the policies that have led us to this place, but rather is responsible to the elected officials, including the President, who have.”

Mr. Brennan does not set the policies that have led us to this place, but rather is responsible to the elected officials, including the President, who have.”

Instead, the University’s President stated it is in fact President Obama, his predecessor, and Congress who are legally responsible for the creation of the policies that, “indeed all of us—find so shocking.”

According to Howe, McShane continued, “Do not for a minute believe that honoring John Brennan is the same as honoring the institution for which he works, nor its checkered history.” He cited the 1989 Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) attack in El Salvador where six Jesuits and two women were murdered by the Salvadoran military. Declassified documents in the 1980s and 1990s showed that the CIA and U.S. State Department knew of these plans to kill the six Jesuits.

Kim was not surprised by the Board’s decision but found their reasoning to be problematic. “[Their reasoning] places blind obedience and political expedience over critical thinking and moral rectitude,” Kim said by email.

“[Their reasoning] places blind obedience and political expedience over critical thinking and moral rectitude.”

“It says, in effect, ‘You do not have to fulfill your moral obligations if your boss tells you not to.  You do not have to uphold your basic moral values if they are politically inconvenient.  In any conflict between the demands of your conscience and the demands of your employers, forget your conscience, and just side with your employers.’ That’s hardly the kind of reasoning one would expect from the leaders of a Jesuit university,” Kim said. Kim’s remarks represent his own thoughts, and do not speak on behalf of the FFAT.

Myers also spoke on his own behalf, though believes the entire committee is in agreement.  He said, “Father McShane’s comment may reflect the political climate today in which anything the President says goes.” Myers specifically referenced the political climate articulated the White House in 2002-2003, which claimed that “if the president orders it, it is not illegal.”

Myers continued, “If you simply look at the last 40 years of this country’s history, subordinates or officers in the presidential administration have been held criminally responsible even though the president was directing them, even though they were just following orders.” Myers referenced the Nuremberg trials, in which the Allies executed and sentenced-life imprisonment for “following orders.” He also referenced the Watergate Scandal and stated, “precedents determine that individuals are responsible for their actions regardless of their superiors’ orders.”

“We are really disappointed for the reasoning and rationale. And that, as much as anything, is reason enough for us to continue to speak out and to teach,” Myers said.

Although the first part of the petition was rejected, there are two more calls to action: for a University-wide dialogue “on the University’s responsibilities in living up to its mission on torture and human rights.” Secondly, a call for a public symposium “that talks about the issue of torture in a Jesuit context and the responsibilities of a University as an academic community and a Jesuit inspired community, not only pastoral but academic and public in nature,” according to Myers.

“We hope he will join us in deeper reflection and dialogue,” Myers said. “We are grateful for McShane’s graciousness throughout all this.” According to Howe, the University, “absolutely supports a University wide reflection on the University’s responsibilities in living up to its mission on torture and human rights, and a public symposium on the issues.”

The petition gathered 739 signatures as of the date published and reads: “In May 2012, despite the objections of both faculty and students, Fordham University awarded an honorary degree to John Brennan, then Deputy National Security Adviser, now Director of the CIA. This award was problematic at the time. In light of the released Senate Intelligence Committee Report on CIA Torture, it is now indefensible. Mr. Brennan is complicit with the war crimes and human rights abuses documented by the Senate.”

The Officers of the Board of Trustees and President are McShane, Robert D. Daleo chair of the board and retired vice chairman of Thomson Reuters, Edward M. Stroz vice chair of the board co-president of Stroz Friedberg LLC, Nora Ahern Grose secretary of the board.

The Board of Trustees are:
Don V. Almeida
Retired Vice Chairman, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Sally J. Bellet
President & Trustee, Stein-Bellet Foundation

Stephen E. Bepler
Retired Senior Vice President, Capital Research Global Investors

Rosemary T. Berkery
Chair, UBS Bank USA and Vice Chair, Wealth Management Americas UBS Financial Services

Vincent L. Biagi, SJ
Assistant for Secondary and Pre-Secondary Education, Northeast Province of the Society of Jesus

Darryl Emerson Brown
President, Brownboys3 Inc.

James Brown
Of Counsel, Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP

James E. Buckman

Vincent Cappucci
Co-Founder, Entwistle & Cappucci, LLP

Donna M. Carroll
President, Dominican University

Michael Cosgrove
President, Carragh Consulting, USA

Gerald C. Crotty
President, Weichert Enterprise LLC

Carolyn Dursi Cunniffe
Senior Vice President, Cablevision Systems Corporation

Carolyn N. Dolan
Managing Principal, Sampson Capital Advisors, LLC

Christopher F. Fitzmaurice
CFF Asset Management

Darlene Luccio Jordan
Executive Director, The Gerald R. Jordan Foundation

John M. Keane
Chairman, Institute for the Study of War

Andrew C. Kerin
Chief Executive Officer, The Brickman Group, Ltd.

Brian W. MacLean
President and COO, The Travelers Companies, Inc.

J. Thomas McClain, SJ
General Treasurer, Curia of the Society of Jesus

Sylvester McClearn
Managing Director – Head of Business Development, Topeka Capital Markets

Stephen J. McGuinness
Senior Managing Director, Executive Officer and Head of Business Development at Strategic Value Partners, LLC*

Patricia M. Nazemetz
Principal, NAZ DEC

Armando Nuñez, Jr.
President and CEO, CBS Global Distribution Group

Joseph P. Parkes, SJ
President, Cristo Rey New York High School

George Quickley, SJ
Pastor, St. Patrick’s Parish

Thomas J. Regan, SJ
Interim Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Associate Professor of Philosophy,  Loyola University Chicago

Dennis G. Ruppel
Partner, Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel & Burns LLP

Peter John Sacripanti
Chairman, McDermott, Will & Emery

Thomas P. Salice
Managing Member, SFW Capital Partners LLC

Luis E. San Miguel
President and Chief Operating Officer, SIGMA³ Integrated Reservoir Solutions LLC*

Thomas Scirghi, S.J.
Associate Professor of Theology and Rector of the Jesuit Community, Fordham University

William J. Toppeta
Senior Advisor, Promontory Financial Group

Vincent Viola
Chairman and CEO, Virtu Financial

Lilian Wu
Program Executive, Global University Programs, IBM University Relations and Innovations

John M. Zizzo
Retired Partner, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP

*This information is according to BloombergBusiness data. All other business titles are according to the University.