This week in Villanova history

Philip Terzian

The Villanovan is in print again, ending a two month suspension of operating funds by Fr. Edward J. McCarthy, O.S.A., President of the University. The closing was the first such action in the paper’s forty-six year history, and attracted local and national press attention. In the Villanova community, criticism was heard from, among others, former editors of The Villanovan, members of the Augustinian seminary, the Department of English and numerous alumni. Fr. McCarthy was supported editorially by the Suburban and Wayne Times.

The suspension was the culmination of differences between Fr. McCarthy and The Villanovan that have existed since he took office. During the 1971-72 term, editor Margaret McCarvill was criticized by the President for the alleged use of obscene and sexually-oriented words in articles. In order to preclude suspension or prior censorship, a set of guidelines was formulated by the University Publications Board last Spring and ratified by the University Senate to define the parameters of responsibility for the newspaper and the limits of editorial freedom the administration would allow. Part of the recent crisis centered on whether those guidelines had been violated and whether, if they had not, Fr. McCarthy had stepped beyond the established method of administration-newspaper communication and nullified the guidelines and the Publications Board. Some members of the editorial staff and the Publications Board thought that was the case.

The controversy began last November 15th with the publication of two editorials that reportedly displeased the President. One, entitled “Endgame,” citing the considerable financial losses of the football team, its poor performance in the 1972 season and player abuse of scholarships, advocated abolition of the program. The editorial aroused considerable comment in the Philadelphia are and was noted by the press corps in other cities, prompting a large response from the alumni. The Philadelphia Inquirer reproduced the article, and Philadelphia Bulletin sports reporters Frank Brady and Jim Barniak visited the University campus to interview members of the administration, Athletic department, scholarship football players and editors of the Villanovan. The following Saturday, in the locker room before the Temple game, Fr. McCarthy apologized to the football team for the editorial, commented on the editorial staff of The Villanovan and assured the players that football would not be abolished. Since the President had publicly speculated about the feasibility of abolition, some reporters interpreted this about-face as a direct reaction to the Villanovan editorial.

The other editorial, entitled “Myopia,” was to have stronger repercussions. The editorial criticized Fr. Richard D. Breslin, O.S.A., Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for his suspension of Dr. Barry Young of the Sociology Department from further association with the Honors Program. Dr. Young was informed of his suspension by a student and, it is believed, has since been permanently excluded from the program. The editorial deplored Fr. Breslin’s method of operation and general performance in office.

Fr. McCarthy called an emergency meeting of the Publications Board on Friday, November 18th to register his complaints about “Myopia.” The Board dissuaded him from suspending funds until it had made its own evaluation and ultimately recommended against suspension. Fr. McCarthy abided by that decision.

In the Debember 6th edition, however, a news story covering a meeting of the Sociology Club quoted a speaker from the Gay Activist Alliance. Fr. McCarthy, in a subsequent interview with Villanova radio station WKVU, said that the quote included a sexually explicit word that he deemed was in poor taste. Two days after the appearance of the edition, the Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. James Duffy, informed the editorial staff of The Villanovan that the President had suspended funds. It must be noted that throughout the several weeks between the appearance of “Myopia” and the article on the Sociology Club, Fr. McCarthy did not communicate directly with the staff of The Villanovan either in consultation or complaint.

The suspension attracted nationwide attention. The story was carried in many major metropolitan newspapers, the wire services, the campus press and the Philadelphia area press. Members of the editorial staff were variously interviewed by the Philadelphia Bulletin, Inquirer, and Daily News; Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. outlet KYW-TV and radio and local newspapers. Twenty-one members of the Augustinian seminary wrote to Fr. McCarthy condemning the suspension and The Villanovan received messages of support from alumni, former Villanovan staff members, members of the faculty and representatives of the area commercial and college press. The editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian, student newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania, offered the use of the Pennsylvanian presses.

The situation remained the same, however, until late in January when Dr. Duffy proposed to the staff of The Villanovan a revised set of guidelines, generally agreed to be somewhat more restrictive than the previous set. Editor Peter Schmader, speaking for the staff, rejected the new guidelines. On Friday, February 22nd, the University Senate ratified three statements in support of The Villanovan and the position of the Publications Board (see article). A few days later, Joan Gillespie, a member of the student government and the Publications Board, held an interview with Fr. McCarthy where the original guidelines were evaluated and amended to the satisfaction of the President and Ms. Gillespie. These guidelines, much closer to the original than Dr. Duffy’s proposed set, were presented to the editorial staff and accepted.

The Villanovan is, at the moment, operating with no guidelines, relying instead on what has been characterized as “mutual good judgment” in its operation and editorial policies. The guidelines formulated by the President and Jan Gillespie will be ratified by the University Senate in April. It must be noted that prior censorship, a matter of considerable contention in the course of events, has been eliminated from consideration, and that the proposed guidelines are, with minor variations, very close to the rules by which The Villanovan was run at the time of its suspension.