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.