Last week, FIRE wrote Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow to ask him again why a verdict declaring conservative student publication The Primary Source (TPS) guilty of “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment” still stands―despite the fact that Bacow himself has openly admitted that such a punishment could not stand under the First Amendment.
We explained to President Bacow (again) that the only way for Tufts University to shed the dishonor of being one of three schools named to FIRE’s Red Alert list―reserved for schools FIRE deems “the worst of the worst” when it comes to protecting rights on campus―was by immediately dropping the guilty finding against TPS. As we wrote:
As long as the harassment finding against The Primary Source remains, students at Tufts are in danger of being censored and sanctioned merely for expressing unpopular opinions on campus.FIRE asks once again that Tufts reverse the “harassment” finding against TPS. We request a response to this letter by December 21, 2007.
Well, we’ve received a response from President Bacow. Unfortunately, Bacow continues to insist that maintaining the bogus guilty verdict against TPS is somehow consistent with basic principles of free expression. In a textbook example of the art of the evasive non-answer, Bacow writes:
I have made my support for freedom of expression clear on numerous occasions. In those statements I have said that the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech, not less. Under my leadership, Tufts University will continue to be guided by this principle.
Maddeningly, Bacow manages to get the basic principle right, while getting the all-important application of that principle completely wrong. To his (limited) credit, Bacow has publicly acknowledged that “[t]he First Amendment protects freedom of speech and that includes most offensive speech,” writing therefore that while “some have called for censure [of TPS] or more,” he disagrees with that response. But somehow, Bacow’s recognition of the fact that TPS must not be punished for engaging in clearly protected speech inexplicably fails to guide him to the only logical conclusion: that the guilty finding against the paper cannot in good faith be upheld.
Obviously, Bacow’s equivocation is not “leadership.” Rather, Bacow’s trying to have it both ways, and failing miserably. If Bacow really believes in freedom of expression, then he should realize the inherent problem in allowing a formal finding of “guilty” to remain on the books against TPS. Instead, he dissembles.
FIRE is not alone in pointing out Bacow’s frustrating lack of principle. Nationally syndicated columnist and longtime FIRE supporter John Leo authored a typically insightful entry over at Minding The Campus yesterday wherein he blasted Bacow’s “unbelievable obtuseness” for “again dodg[ing] the issue of rescinding the harassment finding” in his response to FIRE. Calling the protection of free expression at Tufts “somewhere between tepid and imaginary,” Leo takes Bacow to task for his inability to stand up for free expression on campus.