Tufts Shoves Bloomberg’s Speech Down the Memory Hole

By May 29, 2007

There is a bit of old advice known as the First Rule of Holes: “When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is to stop digging.” Alas, Tufts University has ignored this adage when it comes to the dispute over the school’s decision to punish a student publication, The Primary Source, for printing a couple of satires (criticizing affirmative action policies and Islamic violence) that offended some people on campus.

Tufts took a lot of well-deserved criticism for that decision, but then things got worse: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave the commencement address at Tufts, and praised the university’s commitment to free speech in the case of The Primary Source. In response to this surprising turn of events—why praise a school for its commitment to free speech only ten days after it punishes students for speaking freely?—Greg authored an open letter to Mayor Bloomberg that was printed in The Huffington Post this Saturday. Greg’s entire letter is very much worth reading, but the salient point for my purposes here is this: “[W]hile [Tufts President Lawrence] Bacow knew about the harassment ruling well before your speech, he let you proceed with a speech praising the university for refusing to punish the paper.”

Unless the mayor of New York City is an avid reader of the Tufts Daily, the information for his speech must have come from either Tufts administrators or from his own research, which was undoubtedly performed before Tufts decided to punish the students for the articles just ten days before the commencement address. If I were Mayor Bloomberg, I’d be pretty angry that Bacow or one of his flunkies didn’t see fit to inform me that one of the pillars of my commencement speech—in fact, the example I used to illustrate the value of “respect”—was no longer factually correct.

Tufts can’t have been happy that FIRE publicly pointed out how it let Mayor Bloomberg down—or, worse, deceived him. The school’s response, unfortunately, was right out of 1984: Tufts did their best to shove Bloomberg’s speech down the “memory hole,” without being too obvious about it. Greg’s article went up on The Huffington Post on Saturday. We mentioned this on our website, complete with links to Bloomberg’s speech on the Tufts website juxtaposed with our account of the case. As of late Sunday night, all the links were still working. But if you click on the “Bloomberg’s speech” link above right now, you’ll see that instead of taking you to the text of the speech, it redirects you to a press release about the speech that nowhere mentions Bloomberg’s points about free speech. Go ahead, click on the “Read the address” link on that Tufts webpage. All it does now is redirect you back to their press release. Sometime on Memorial Day, someone on Tufts’ website went in and took down the text of the speech. One can still listen to the MP3, but the part we’re concerned with doesn’t start until 11 minutes and 20 seconds in. I guess remembering those who died to protect our freedoms is less important to Tufts than making sure that nobody catches them violating those freedoms.

There’s another maxim that says it’s not the crime that gets you, it’s the cover-up. Guess nobody at Tufts has heard that one either. Particularly sad is trying to cover-up in the days of Google’s cache, which already recorded the speech. Here it is, from Google’s cache, recorded for all time on FIRE’s website. I excerpted the relevant part. If you have time, give it a read—it really is a good speech. If only Tufts’ handling of The Primary Source incident was indeed worthy of Mayor Bloomberg’s praise.

As for the cover-up, I suppose we shouldn’t expect better from Tufts. After all, if you are willing to punish students for exercising the very rights that Tufts guarantees, doing a little thing like taking a famous elected official’s speech off your website because it embarrasses you is no big deal. Rather than admitting its mistake and living up to the ideals that Bloomberg very persuasively espouses in his speech, Tufts has decided to just cover up the best it can and hope the problem goes away. It’s not unusual behavior—in fact, we would expect corporate or government officials to act this way. But from a nonprofit institution that is supposedly dedicated to the free exchange of ideas, shouldn’t we expect a little better?

UPDATE: Tufts has restored the link! See the following blog entry for more.

Schools: Tufts University