FIRE Chairman Takes On Harvard’s Renewed Civility Push

By September 24, 2012

Writing for Minding the Campus with Juliana DeVries, FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate weighs in on new reports of "sensitivity" training for incoming freshmen at Harvard University. 

As the Harvard Crimson reported earlier this month, Harvard incorporated the sensitivity training into its programming for freshmen this year in lieu of the controversial "kindness" pledge instituted last fall and later modified after extensive criticism. The Crimson quotes Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman defending the new initiative: 

The Freshman Dean’s Office set aside the controversial freshman pledge this year, opting instead for additional programming for the class of 2016 during Opening Days that focused on developing empathy and respect for classmates. 

This year, proctors were trained to foster discussion about community values, and freshmen performed skits depicting sensitive situations with roommates and friends.

"We did not have [freshmen] sign pledges, but we pushed every bit as hard on how important it was to consider their growth on all fronts," said Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67.

In response, Silverglate and DeVries write:

We now know that Dean Dingman’s retreat was merely a tactical one. He was not persuaded by his critics’ arguments against pressuring college students to publicly display their personal and ideological opinions, especially when the pressure was to announce belief in the Dean’s own personal views. Dingman must be unfamiliar with the sordid centuries-long history of authoritarian figures requiring the less powerful to mouth officially-approved views. 

[...]

Dingman seems incapable of recognizing the profound challenge that his imposition of "sensitivity" and supposed empathy poses to each individual student’s dignity and right to hold his or her own views. 

Read the whole piece over at Minding the Campus

Schools: Harvard University