COLBY COLLEGE, in Waterville, Maine, is one of those storybook New England colleges set on a bucolic campus. It is a place of clipped lawns, white-painted buildings, and spires that reach toward skies now leaden with the grayness of winter. Years ago, the campus was downtown in Waterville, but it has been repositioned on a commanding hill, with elegant art galleries and handsome athletic facilities.
Academically, too, Colby has been becoming more and more prestigious.
Colby has also attracted some attention for its Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award on behalf of press freedom and freedom of expression.
Lovejoy was a 19th-century Maine boy, educated at Colby, who went on to become a journalist and Presbyterian minister. He became fervently involved in the antislavery movement in St. Louis, but bitter opposition to the abolitionist views he expressed in his newspaper caused him to move to Alton, Ill. Mobs harassed him and destroyed his press and in 1837, he was killed in the course of defending a new press against angry crowds. In his memory, Colby established the Lovejoy Award, given each year to some distinguished journalist for his or her work in the cause of press freedom.
Thus it was with surprise and regret that I learned that the faculty of Colby, a college that has championed freedom of expression, now wants to take a decision that would stifle it. By a majority vote, the faculty wants the Central Intelligence Agency banned from recruiting on the Colby campus. As its reasons it cites ``illegal incursions into Nicaragua, its role in illegal arms sales, its illegal investigations into the lives of private citizens.''
Particularly ironic is that the student government apparently opposes the faculty on this issue. The student government wants the CIA on campus; the faculty does not.
Student representatives have circulated a letter saying that ``a ban on the CIA coming to Colby would prevent students from gathering information from these people. This motion contradicts Colby's liberal arts beliefs.''
Well, hooray for the students. They are absolutely right. American college students are recruited by a diverse variety of groups. These include those organizations that urge students to go to Cuba to help bring in the sugar crop, and to go to Nicaragua to work on behalf of the Sandinista regime. We have not heard any move to ban such solicitation.
Is not a university a place where students should be exposed to a variety of ideas and ideologies so that they can make up their own minds?
The omnibus condemnation of the CIA by Colby's faculty also seems to be uninformed.
In the first place, there is a clear separation between the CIA's covert activities, which the Colby faculty condemns, and the analytical branch of the CIA, which conducts rather straightforward scholarly research about various countries. Some legislators are considering whether the CIA should not be split into two separate agencies, one conducting operations, and the other conducting analysis.
Even if the Colby faculty is opposed to any kind of covert activity at all by the CIA - even activity legal and in pursuit of the legitimate foreign policy of the United States - would they bar the CIA's talking to students even about the prospect of a scholarly analytical career with the CIA?
Fortunately, the issue of whether the CIA will be allowed to set foot on the Colby campus is not yet closed. The students want the CIA; the faculty does not. But in January the college's president and trustees will make the final decision.
I wonder what Elijah Parish Lovejoy would think.