New York Times Sept. 25 2002
by Daniel J. Wakin Columbia U. Head Apologizes to Fordham Over Public Gibe The president of Columbia University apologized to his counterpart at Fordham University yesterday for a public gibe by a Columbia marching band announcer during halftime at the Columbia-Fordham football game on Saturday. The remark alluded to the sexual abuse scandal in the priesthood. Anger about the remark among some Fordham officials, students and alumni lingered over what they perceived as a lukewarm reaction by the Columbia administration. A Fordham spokeswoman, Elizabeth Schmalz, said she was particularly disturbed that the remark -- a double entendre about altar boys -- was approved by a Columbia official before it was broadcast through loudspeakers at the game. Ms. Schmalz said that the president of Columbia, Lee C. Bollinger, called Fordham's president, the Rev. Joseph A. O'Hare, to express his "personal regret" and to say that he was "searching for the appropriate institutional response." By the end of the day, a Columbia spokeswoman repeated the university's official disavowal of the comment and again apologized for any offense given. "The university sincerely regrets that the remarks offended any religious group or innocent victim of child abuse," said the spokeswoman, Lauren Marshall. Fordham officials expressed disappointment. "If this is the resolution of the matter, we find the entire incident disappointing on all fronts," Ms. Schmalz said, but added that it was now "time to move on." Yesterday, members of the Columbia band said they stood by the quip. "The band regrets that people were offended by our script, but the claim we are some anti-Catholics or bigots is false," said the band's leader, Thomas Berman. The script was written by Andy Hao, a Columbia sophomore. "They're not going to get an apology from me," Mr. Hao said. "You should blame the priests that molest kids and degrade the name of the church rather than blaming some college kid who wrote a football script." He said some people just could not take a joke. But the Fordham University chaplain, the Rev. Jerry Blaszczak, said that the issue went deeper than that. The remark shows just how much "intolerance and unreflective prejudice" persist in American society, he said. "That it should happen among America's cultural and institutional elite is a representation of just how bad the problem is." Columbia's Roman Catholic chaplain, Msgr. J. Christopher Maloney, wrote a letter of protest yesterday to the university's administration, calling the remark scurrilous and insulting, and saying that the university as a whole could not escape blame. Mr. Hao, the script's author, said the Columbia official who approves and sometimes censors the band's narration cut other remarks, including a phrase just before the altar boy reference about Fordham students being unable to get into Columbia. Ms. Schmalz of Fordham said, "It's just incomprehensible to me what the value judgment was behind that decision," referring to the remark's being left in the script. She said it was "outrageous" that the comment remained posted on the Columbia band's Web site, cumb.org. The Columbia band censor, Catherine Webster, is a former dean of first-year students who is working part time in the Barnard College dean's office, said Suzanne Trimel, a Columbia spokeswoman. Ms. Webster, a former Columbia band member, was unavailable yesterday, Ms. Trimel said. Ms. Trimel said it was important to note that the remark came in the context of a student satirical show. "We do allow some latitude," she said. But the matter is a lesson to the band, she said, on the impact of free speech: "People may be traumatized, saddened, suffer by something they said." Mr. Berman was more philosophical. "We get in trouble for something like this every five years," he said.