Fordham is doubling down on its defense of the 2012 honorary degree it awarded to CIA Director John Brennan, FCRH ’77, in spite of heavy criticism from students and faculty who say the honor should be rescinded.
A group called Fordham Faculty Against Torture (FFAT) has spent the past few months advocating for Fordham to revoke Brennan’s degree in light of his connection to the controversial torture tactics outlined in December’s Senate Intelligence Committee report.
But the University has continued to protect Brennan and the degree awarded to him, suggesting that President George W. Bush is to blame for the torture tactics outlined in the report and not Brennan.
“The University, and the [Board of Trustees], condemns torture and extrajudicial imprisonment in the strongest possible terms,” spokesman Bob Howe said in a statement. “That said, as a public servant, Mr. Brennan answers to elected officials, including the president of the United States, who are the originators of such policies and who are legally responsible for their creation and implementation.”
David Myers, a history professor and a member of FFAT, said Fordham “has a long history of producing conservative hardliners” and the latest statement represents a school that is conflicted.
“On the one hand, its mission statement is quite clear about human rights, and justice — we have a Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice, founded by Fr. O’Hare and expanded under Fr. McShane,” he told Fordham Daily. “On the other hand, we have a relatively conservative student body and alumni (John Brennan among them) that lean toward deference to power in emergency situations.”
As to whether Bush or Brennan should be held responsible, Meyers said: “We note that Mr. Brennan has been quite vociferous in defending agency actions — it is not just a dutiful response on his part.”
He added that while Fordham’s response does not come as a surprise, school officials are probably wishing for a do-over.
“I think we might want to ask whether, if the university had to do it over again, Fr. McShane and the Board would have opted for an honorary degree, knowing what they now know.”
Student government at Rose Hill stands with the Board of Trustees and voted against supporting FFAT just before leaving for spring break last month.
Still, the group has collected hundreds of signatures from students, faculty and staff who agree that Brennan’s degree should be revoked.
It appears the University will remain steadfast in its opposition to the effort.
“To revoke Mr. Brennan’s degree merely because it is within the University’s power to do so, as opposed to honors accorded to the elected officials who created and upheld the policies, is both unfair and ineffectual,” Howe said.
Brennan became director of the CIA in March 2013. Before then, he served as chief counterterrorism advisor to President Obama. Brennan has come under fire from many for orchestrating America’s drone strategy.