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Issue Date:  May 6, 2005

Students protest cancellation of McCarthy peace class


The cancellation of journalist and activist Colman McCarthy’s Georgetown University class in the “Literature of Peace” has sparked controversy at the Jesuit-run university. McCarthy, an NCR columnist and president of the Washington-based Center for Teaching Peace, is an adjunct professor in the university’s Program on Justice and Peace. He has taught the class for eight consecutive semesters, but was told March 30 that he would not be invited to do so next fall.

University officials said the move was a routine change in curriculum. “All we’re doing is offering some different courses in the fall,” said Professor Henry Schwarz, the program’s director. Schwarz said the change was not ideologically driven -- McCarthy is a self-described anarchist and pacifist -- but simply a routine rotation of teachers and class offerings. It’s “something that happens all the time,” said Schwarz. The program depends on largely nontenured professors, including part-time adjuncts, and can only afford to offer a select number of classes, said Schwarz.

Some members of the Georgetown community did not accept the rationale.

“McCarthy has been the brightest star of the Justice and Peace Program,” editorialized The Hoya, the student newspaper. “Students adore the professor and his class,” said the paper.

The department is “not providing real answers as to why professor McCarthy isn’t being reinstated,” said senior Meghan Devaney, a student in McCarthy’s class. Devaney is gathering student signatures on petitions she hopes will persuade the department to offer McCarthy’s class in the spring 2006 semester. Students have already preregistered for fall 2005 classes, making reinstatement of the class this year unlikely, said Devaney.

McCarthy termed the department’s move “mystifying” and said it was done “without any warning or any conversation.” McCarthy said he was originally told that lack of funds was the reason for discontinuing the class, so he offered to teach it for free. That offer was rejected by department officials who said it would establish a bad precedent.

“This has been personally hurtful to me and has been especially hurtful to a large number of my students,” said McCarthy.

“Fr. Richard McSorely, the late Jesuit priest who for years taught peace courses at Georgetown … once told me that if I was ever invited to teach at Georgetown that I shouldn’t get my hopes up that the administrators are really serious about peace education,” said McCarthy. “Maybe I should have listened. I did get my hopes up.”

McCarthy will continue to teach peace studies classes at American University, The Catholic University of America, the University of Maryland, and at three Washington-area high schools. Since 1988, he has taught a class on “Law, Conscience and Nonviolence” at Georgetown’s law school.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, May 6, 2005

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