Chris Bray: A Most Unwelcome Development

A Most Unwelcome Development
Chris Bray
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2012

Boston College filed its notice of appeal yesterday in the court case over the Belfast Project subpoenas, but the substance, tone, and seriousness of that appeal remains unclear. A detailed appellate brief, explaining their argument in full, is probably a few weeks away. But for now, we have this statement from BC spokesman Jack Dunn, made today in a brief interview with the local NPR affiliate:

“It appears that these interviews have limited probative value to the criminal investigation,” Dunn said. “We are engaged in this issue for the sake of academic research and the enterprise of oral history.”

That statement eats itself: BC is fighting to protect academic research, but explicitly signals that its only intention is to protect interviews that don’t matter. Interviews with probative value to a criminal investigation? Yeah, go for it, doors to the archive are wide open. Happy to help!

This framing is useless in any kind of defense of academic research, and will result — at best — in the delivery of a slightly narrower set of confidential research materials to government. It acknowledges the premise that universities can be turned into police agencies, interviewing suspects and delivering interviews to criminal justice systems. Compare BC’s position to this one if you want to see what an argument for real freedom of inquiry looks like.

If this is where they’re going, their case is a defeat before it even begins.

See also this post from Ed Moloney, who calls BC’s effort a “sham appeal,” and this statement from all three Belfast Project researchers.