Harvey’s Harvard Board of Overseers Run: A Follow-Up

By December 22, 2008

On December 12, we announced that Harvey Silverglate, FIRE’s co-founder and chairman, is running for the Harvard Board of Overseers.

Harvey says that he has since been "overwhelmed" by the response. More than 100 Harvard alumni have, upon learning of Harvey’s candidacy, reached out and offered to sign his nomination form, putting him well on his way to gathering the required 219 signatures to qualify as a petition candidate in the April 2009 election. Harvey has also received messages of support from peopleHarvard grads and other, and from all ends of the political spectrumcheering him on and offering support.

Todd Zywicki at The Volokh Conspiracy referred to Harvey as a "truly principled civil libertarian" in his endorsement, and former FIRE president David French offered a tongue-in-cheek "apology" for his support on the conservative Phi Beta Cons blog:

I am terribly sorry about this, but I must offer my sincere and enthusiastic endorsement to your campaign for a position on Harvard’s Board of Overseers…[T]hose who seek to advance liberty have no better friend – and those who oppress our fellow citizens have no worse enemy – than Harvey Silverglate.

Since co-founding FIRE in 1999, Harvey has been a tireless advocate for students ensnared in campus kangaroo courts, undergrads accused of violating unconstitutional speech codes, and campus citizens asserting their freedom of conscience. He has likewise come to the aid of faculty members, and even an independent-minded administrator or two, who have run afoul of reigning campus orthodoxies. Yet despite these important individual victories, the nagging question has remained: how does one change the campus culture that produces these illiberal policies?

With a seat on the 30-member Board of Overseers, one of two governing bodies at Harvard, Harvey aims to promote reform at one of the nation’s foremost academic institutions. Harvard undoubtedly serves as a template that many colleges and universities, for better or worse, emulate. (There’s a reason Harvard puts retailers to shame by raking in $40 million a year on merchandise alone.)

But with such focus on brand, even Harvard insiders agree that the Ivy League education has taken a backseat. By reforming the student disciplinary process, promoting academic freedom and free speech, and maintaining unfiltered, independent accounts of campus happenings, Harvey will push to reinvigorate these pillars of Harvard’s prominence. (See the full statement of Harvey’s candidacy for more information.)

Harvey is not alone in this undertaking. Robert Freedman, a Harvard Law School alumnus and Philadelphia lawyerand, it should be noted, a long-time supporter of FIREis also collecting signatures for a petition candidacy that is complementary to Harvey’s platform. Bob ran last year and came within a few hundred votes, out of some 30,000 cast, of winning a place on the board. Bob’s main focus is on improving Harvard’s educational prowess.

Harvey and Bob are seeking the support of all Harvard degree-holders, which includes alumni of Harvard College and any of the constituency professional and graduate schools. To sign a nomination form, send me (Harvey’s research assistant) an e-mail at kyle@harveysilverglate.com. Beginning April 1st, ballots will be mailed out by Harvard, over a two-week period, to all alumni. Until then, keep spreading the word!

Schools: Harvard University