Catholic University officials said yesterday that Eleanor Smeal, the president of the National Organization for Women, will not be allowed to use university facilities to give a public lecture to students. It was the second time in two weeks that a speech by Smeal at the school had been canceled.
John Joseph Murphy, the university's executive vice president, issued a brief statement saying that proper procedures were followed when a student government group took action two weeks ago that led to the cancellation of a speech by Smeal scheduled for last Tuesday.
He said the invitation to Smeal was withdrawn "on the basis of appropriate student decision making."
The administration's action effectively blocks Smeal from speaking to a group of law students, who invited her because they were opposed to the cancellation of her first speech.
Smeal said yesterday that "a large proportion of students want" her to speak and that the administration is "determined to try to stop discussion on one of the crucial policies of our country."
"It is clear the administration has stepped in and is trying to prevent it," she said. "But it's a losing battle because free speech is part of our land."
Third-year law student John Gilmore said the university chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is going to meet with attorneys to determine whether to file suit against the university. Gilmore said the chapter will sponsor a speech by Smeal on Feb. 25 off campus and has proclaimed the date an annual Eleanor Smeal Day.
Because of the controversy over Smeal's appearance at Catholic, which initially drew criticism from antiabortion activists on campus, some on campus have questioned the university's commitment to freedom of speech.
"They were bound and determined never to have her on campus no matter what the proper procedures were," said Gilmore, who said he believes the university violated the principle of freedom of speech by canceling her appearance. "It was preordained from the beginning. This is an unacceptable infringement of our rights."
In an interview yesterday, Murphy said the university has a "a very strong record" on freedom of speech.
"A private university is different from a public university and has different standards by which it evaluates these things," Murphy said. He said the school has policies prohibiting some categories of speakers, such as those who advocate violence or the overthrow of the government.
Smeal said her speeches at universities focus on the changing role of women in society and that the administration at Catholic is "having trouble adjusting" to women's issues and women's rights.
In 1971 at Catholic, then-university President Clarence C. Walton banned radical feminist Ti-Grace Atkinson from speaking on campus. Undergraduate and graduate student groups protested his decision and ultimately won a court ruling that said Atkinson was constitutionally guaranteed access to a speaker's platform at the university.
While Atkinson spoke to about 800 students in the university auditorium, Patrica Buckley Bozell, the sister of conservative columnist William F. Buckley, ran to the podium and tried to slap Atkinson.