FIRE’s Harvey Silverglate and Adam Kissel Take on Harvard’s Civility Pledge at ‘Minding the Campus’

By on September 13, 2011

In an excellent article published today at Minding the Campus, FIRE Co-founder and Board Chairman Harvey Silverglate and FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel take on Harvard College’s recently enacted civility pledge for students. We have written about the pledge here on The Torch, as well as The Huffington Post and PolicyMic.

Commenting on Harvard’s unprecedented and ill-conceived move, Harvey and Adam write:

Harvard College’s Class of 2015 found something unprecedented awaiting their arrival on campus: an ideological pledge. It was framed as a request for allegiance to certain social and political principles. No such request had been made of Harvard students since the college’s founding by Puritans in 1636.

First-years are being pressured to sign a "Freshman Pledge" committing them to create a campus "where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment" – all in the name of "upholding the values of the College" including "inclusiveness and civility."

As Harvey and Adam make clear, this is not acceptable at a place that holds itself out as an exemplary institution of higher education:

"Inclusiveness" and "civility" have become, for better or worse, buzz words among those who argue over the extent to which harsh rhetoric should be avoided in the name of providing students protection from the hurt feelings that often result from vigorous arguments.

For Harvard’s incoming freshmen, that debate has been decided in their absence, presented as gospel at the very start of their student experience. Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman has decreed Harvard’s official position and established the direction in which every student’s "moral compass" (Dingman’s words) must point. Dingman’s interpretation of Harvard College’s values is intellectually and morally weak: he privileges kindness, inclusiveness, and civility, almost entirely ignoring the cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, and courage), the theological virtues (love, hope, and faith), Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues (including cleanliness, chastity, and humility), Aristotle’s intellectual and moral virtues, and everybody else’s. In a world where there is such a difference of opinion as to what truly is virtuous and what is merely vacuous, it seems not to have occurred to Harvard’s Dean of Freshmen that this arena is one for a student’s intellectual and moral exploration, rather than a fit subject for administrative fiat.

Be sure to read Harvey and Adam’s entire piece at Minding the Campus for more of their thoughts on this important issue. It is a great read, and well worth your time.

Schools: Harvard University