20 January 2012 :
Academics and observers of the academy have for several weeks
The controversy began this past summer, when in response to the July 13th terrorist attacks in Mumbai, Swamy penned an op-ed describing a radical prescription for “how to wipe out Islamic terror.” Swamy argued that “[t]errorist masterminds have political goals and a method in their madness…an effective strategy to deter terrorism is to defeat those political goals and to rubbish them by counter-terrorist action.” Swamy’s strategy to counter terror was six-fold: he called for the settlement of Indian soldiers in Kashmir, the removal of mosques located on certain Hindu holy sites, compulsory teaching of Sanskrit, prohibition of conversion away from Hinduism, annexation of part of Bangladesh in compensation for illegal immigration, and, finally, the renaming of India “Hindustan” and the prevention of non-Hindus from voting unless they “proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus.”
Very soon after the publication of Swamy’s op-ed, Harvard summer-school students began circulating a petition calling for his removal. In response, Harvard spokesperson Linda Cross stated that “It is central to the mission of a university to protect free speech, including that of Dr. Swamy and of those who disagree with him.” The controversy seemed at an end with the pronouncement of this quite common sense – indeed, essential – defense of academic freedom, until the faculty got involved this winter. In a meeting on December 6th, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to take the unprecedented step of stripping Swamy’s courses from the upcoming summer school curriculum, effectively firing him. Professor Diana Eck led the charge:
Freedom of expression is an essential principle in an academic community, one that we fully support. Notwithstanding our commitment to the robust exchange of ideas, Swamy’s op-ed clearly crosses the line into incitement by demonizing an entire religious community, demanding their disenfranchisement, and calling for violence against their places of worship.
Professor Eck called Swamy’s column incitement; she was clearly incorrect as far as constitutional law is concerned, but the majority of her colleagues did not care any more than she did. They voted to ban Swamy’s courses: barring a sudden change, Subramanian Swamy will not be coming back to Harvard because he has unpopular and controversial ideas.
Harvard’s modern move towards political viewpoint censorship dates at least to 1992, when publication of a law student-authored parody of the austere Harvard Law Review landed the student humorists in hot water. The students privately circulated a faux article mocking the HLR’s publication of an expletive-laden, postmodern feminist draft article by a professor who had been tragically murdered before finishing piece. The Law School’s Administrative Board tried the parodists and acquitted them only because, the Board announced, the school did not yet have a speech code. The law faculty promptly adopted sexual harassment guidelines to prevent a repetition of such politically toxic humor.
A decade later, the law school erupted again when a first-year student used the word “nig” as shorthand in his publicly posted course outline discussing a famous Supreme Court opinion that invalidated racially restrictive covenants on real estate deeds. Professor Charles Nesson attempted to turn the ballooning controversy into a teaching moment and suggested having a mock trial of the student, with Nesson playing the role of his defense attorney. Nesson was summarily punished and pressed into giving up for the rest of the semester a course he was teaching.
Nor was Harvard’s Business School immune from the university-wide habit of censorship. An HBS student newspaper editor resigned in protest in November 2002 after a verbal warning from the administration for publishing a cartoon that called career services administrators “incompetent morons.” Only after pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (where I serve as Board Chairman) did the Business School relent.
And Harvard’s undergraduate college has also prioritized institutional notions of comfort over discomforting academic incorrectness. In 2002, the English department bowed to the “heckler’s veto” and canceled a lecture and poetry reading by a Northern Irish poet due to his controversial pro-Palestinian views. Such actions are likely to continue; this past year, the college’s Dean of Freshmen, Thomas Dingman, pressured members of the freshman Class of 2015 to sign an oath pledging themselves to the imposed virtues of “respect,” “inclusiveness and civility,” and “the exercise of kindness” which, the pledge asserts, “hol[d] a place on a par with intellectual attainment.” Only sustained criticism by proponents of academic freedom and individual conscience, led by former college dean Harry Lewis, caused Dingman to back down and withdraw the policy of publicly revealing, in the entryway of each dorm, whether or not each student had signed the pledge. The pledge remains in every entryway (albeit without signatures), and Dingman has promised to revisit the “kindness” initiative next year.
More familiar to observers nationwide was the speed with which Harvard President Lawrence Summers was driven out of office after a 2005 academic conference speech in which he offered a controversial explanation for the lack of women in prominent scientific positions. A month later the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—the same group that voted to ban Swamy’s classes—gave the President a vote of “no-confidence.” In 2006 Summers resigned. Some at Harvard believe that Summers was forced out for a number of reasons, including a personality that rubbed many overly-sensitive souls the wrong way. But the mere fact that the flap over women and science is so widely believed to be a major reason—if not the major reason—for Summers’ departure belies something very disturbing about the health (or lack thereof) of academic freedom on that campus.
In 2010, the Law School again acted as Harvard’s chief moral censor. Some months earlier, third-year student Stephanie Grace had sent a private e-mail to her colleagues expressing her desire to see more research on the link, if any, between race and intelligence. “I think it is bad science,” she wrote, “to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try … to find data that will confirm what you want to be true.” Her crime was stating that she was “not 100% convinced” that there was no such link.
When the e-mail later became public, it landed in the hands of law dean Martha Minow. Minow publicly admonished the student for daring to consider the question of race and intelligence, and falsely charged that the student had “suggested that black people are genetically inferior to white people.” While making the obligatory obeisance in theory to “freedom of expression,” Minow insisted that such freedom “must be accompanied by responsibility” since the law school was “dedicated to [both] intellectual pursuit and social justice.” (This is an example of the infamous refrain: “I’m in favor of free speech, but….”) She assured everyone that the school was “especially dedicated to exposing to the light of inquiry false views about individuals or groups,” all the while shaming a student for attempting to raise such inquiries. Grace apologized for the “pain” and “harm” she had caused by expressing even “a doubt” about the issue of race and intelligence. As a reward for the student’s public humiliation and confession of error, Dean Minow took no further action against her; rather, in her e-mail, Minow stated that she was “heartened to see [Grace’s] apology,” apparently satisfied that Grace no longer felt free to speak frankly and controversially on taboo topics.
All of this raises the urgent question of whether and when Harvard’s powerful governing board, known as The President and Fellows of Harvard College, will begin to undertake a long-overdue study of the state of academic freedom and freedom of speech and conscience at one of the nation’s most important universities. But we have little reason to be confident that change will come soon: after all, notwithstanding so many disturbing and visible violations of academic freedom and freedom of speech and conscience at Harvard in recent years, the highest echelons of power at the university have been silent, at least publically. Perhaps they are not listening; or, worse, perhaps they are not disturbed by what is happening. The betting is that Harvard Summer School students, this coming summer, will not have a choice to study under Professor Swamy.
Harvey A. Silverglate, Harvard Law School Class of 1967, is a Boston lawyer, the co-author of The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 1998; HarperPerennial paperback 1999), and Chairman of the Board of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (www.thefire.org). Daniel Schwartz, a FIRE program associate, contributed to this essay.
Source : forbes