Why, you say, should we non-Harvard types care about an election for the lesser of Harvard’s two governing boards? Because two outspoken candidates are trying to storm the gates, arguing that the storied university needs to embrace free speech unambiguously, reform its disciplinary procedures, and focus more on its students.
And because what happens at Harvard doesn’t stay at Harvard, but rather reverberates throughout the academic world…
These two are energetic and provocative—and committed to asking the kind of questions Harvard needs to confront. Ballots go out in April to Harvard alums. Should Freedman and Silverglate win seats on the board, it would do Harvard, and the larger academic universe, a world of good.
Lehigh understands the national significance of Harvey’s and Robert Freedman’s run for an office that has almost been exclusively the domain of preselected candidates who, Harvey and Bob argue, do not do enough to contribute to good governance for Harvard despite having significant credentials in their regular careers. As Lehigh writes:
"Harvard needs a free-thinking, pro-active board of overseers, but the successful and talented people who become overseers seem to lose their independent judgment and spirit of inquiry upon election," says Freedman.
"We are talking about changing the culture of the way the university is governed," says Silverglate.
Long an opponent of nebulous anti-harassment or civility codes that essentially let students be punished for comments if someone else takes offense, Silverglate is particularly concerned with reestablishing a robust climate of free speech and academic freedom at Harvard.
"They have redefined harassment to include any speech that somebody doesn’t want to hear," he says, adding that the overseers should declare unacceptable any restrictions that limit academic freedom or curtail speech that would be protected off campus.
Lehigh also understands the importance of due process in student disciplinary hearings:
"It has become totally irrational, unfair, uninterested in seeking facts, and not geared to finding out the truth," he says, noting that the board has no student representatives and doesn’t allow the accused to call witnesses. "And yet, you just never hear a word from the overseers about this utter outrage." [Links added.]
By the way, The Harvard Crimson agrees that the Administrative Board "is in need of major reform" because of "conflicts of interest" and "larger systemic problems" that render it "a mere kangaroo court, whose rulings are clear before it convenes."
As I mentioned before, Harvey and Bob have a lot more to say about good governance at Harvard—for instance, Bob is especially concerned with the undergraduate curriculum—so for more, see Harvey’s and Bob’s websites.