The following letter was sent to Boston College President William Leahy, SJ and Chair of the Boston College Board of Trustees.
Dear President Leahy and Chairwoman McGillycuddy:
In light of recent press reports about the Belfast Oral History Project, we write to you out of a concern for the reputation of Boston College. Recent reports have raised serious questions about the research procedures of the Belfast Oral History Project and whether they may have violated professional standards. Failure to adhere to professional codes of research conduct is a serious breach that can harm faculty, researchers, and the standing of the university as a research institution. We believe that Boston College must take pro-active steps to answer these questions to uphold the university’s standing in the international scholarly community. We believe a thorough inquiry is necessary and request that you appoint an independent committee to examine the circumstances surrounding the creation and conduct of the Belfast Oral History Project.
At a minimum, the committee should investigate the review process that led to university funding for the project and whether the money has been accounted for according to university guidelines for sponsored research. Given the sensitive nature of the research and the complexities of protecting human subjects in this case, the committee should also investigate the extent to which the research methods and procedures were subject to institutional review and oversight.
The committee must have sufficient independence and authority to show the global scholarly community that Boston College is a research institution of the highest caliber and standards and takes its responsibilities as a sponsor of research seriously. We suggest that the committee be composed of a representative of the American Historical Association; an expert on archival management or oral history; a journalist who is acquainted with questions of journalistic ethics or methods of historical research; and the chair of the History Department.
Given the widening publicity and controversy surrounding the project, we urge the Board of Trustees to consider this matter as soon as possible.
(Endorsed by a vote of the membership of BCAAUP, February 27, 2012)