This Month in FIRE History: Controversy at Harvard Business School

By on January 19, 2012

Nine years ago this month, FIRE happily announced the resolution of a case at Harvard Business School involving an overzealous administration and an egregious violation of free speech. Unfortunately, almost a decade later, Harvard continues to be host to such violations of liberty. 

The case began in October 2002, when The Harbus, a student newspaper at Harvard Business School, ran an editorial cartoon that criticized the school’s Career Services office for severe and chronic technical problems during a crucial week for student job searches. The cartoon suggested that members of the office were "incompetent morons." In response, the school issued a "verbal warning" to Harbus editor-in-chief Nick Will, which led him to resign rather than face disciplinary charges. Harvard Business School Dean Kim B. Clark then released a statement that "Each of us first and foremost is a member of the Harvard Business School community, and as such, we are expected to treat each other respectfully. Referring to members of our community as ‘incompetent morons’ does not fall within the realm of respectful discourse." 

FIRE stepped in to remind Harvard of its duty to protect free speech, noting in our letter that "A rule that outlaws speech that offends administrative power is not compatible with-and teaches contempt for-the most basic components of freedom." In response to this public pressure, Dean Clark reversed his position, announced that the school would not pursue charges, and promised to renew the school’s commitment to open discourse and free expression.

Sadly, FIRE has been involved in numerous cases at Harvard in the years since, and the school continues to display a lack of appreciation for free speech and individual rights. Earlier this month, FIRE’s Daniel Schwartz cataloged a number of these cases in a piece for The Lantern. Just this week on the Forbes website, FIRE’s Board Chairman Harvey A. Silverglate detailed the recent case involving Professor Subramanian Swamy, placing it in the context of Harvard’s long line of abuses. While FIRE was happy to successfully resolve The Harbus’ case, we continue to be disappointed in Harvard’s actions and will therefore continue to fight to restore respect for freedom of expression in Cambridge.

Schools: Harvard University