About 20 percent of Boston College's faculty signed a letter opposing the Catholic school's plan to award Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice an honorary degree when she addresses this year's graduates, saying it is morally wrong to praise a leader whose efforts promote an "unjust war."
The letter, signed by more than 200 faculty members, says Miss Rice's approach to international affairs conflicts with the school's Catholic traditions and humanistic values, and has sparked student rallies and counter-rallies on the university's Chestnut Hill campus.
"Why honor someone who is the architect of an unjust war?" asked the Rev. David Hollenbach, a professor of theology and co-author of the letter.
But Miss Rice will speak and be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the May 22 commencement, Boston College spokesman John B. Dunn said Friday.
"She has definitely accepted our invitation to speak and to receive an honorary degree," he said, confirming what the school's president, the Rev. William Leahy, stated early last week.
"Students tell us they hope protesting faculty members do not disrupt their day."
Of the three student newspapers, two -- the Heights and the conservative Observer -- support the invitation and honor. The third, a more liberal publication called the Patriot, opposes it.
"Bringing in the most powerful woman in America -- and possibly the world -- is nothing short of miraculous," the Heights, which Father Hollenbach described as the "main" student paper and "moderately mainstream," said in an editorial earlier this month.
Miss Rice, the first black woman to be secretary of state, was a distinguished professor of political science and later provost at Stanford University. She received top awards for teaching at the elite California university while on its faculty.
"We're simply trying to raise [awareness] of whether the fundamental values of the Catholic tradition and Western moral tradition and Rice's policies are compatible. We think they are not," said Father Hollenbach, who penned the letter with the Rev. Kenneth Himes, chairman of the department of theology.
It did not call for rescinding the offer and was sent to Father Leahy and the university's Board of Trustees.
Members of the 14,000-member Boston College student body also have engaged in argument over Miss Rice's invitation at several rallies and counter-rallies.
Mr. Dunn said Boston College officials believe Miss Rice is an appropriate choice to speak and be honored "in light of her life's accomplishments."
"She is the great-granddaughter of slaves, the granddaughter of sharecroppers and an individual who overcame racism in the segregated South to aspire to leadership positions in education, diplomacy and public service. Much about her is admirable and worthy of emulation," he said.
Mr. Dunn said some students fear faculty members might try to disrupt the ceremony and have vowed to boo any such outbursts.