FIRE friend and Rochester Institute of Technology Professor David Ross, and those like him, are essential to FIRE’s work. After receiving a FIRE press release, Dr. Ross always forwards it to the appropriate university president and carbon copies dozens of academics across the country. He sends a simply query: is this true? And if so, could you explain your actions and reasoning? If Dr. Ross finds the president’s response wanting, he gives a rebuttal and asks for further explanation or for a change of course.
After FIRE’s latest press release regarding Tufts’ half measures to alleviate the illiberal and wrongful decision of the Tufts Committee on Student Life against The Primary Source, Ross posed his usual questions to Tufts President Lawrence Bacow. President Bacow responded promptly with the following:
With the elimination of the sanction, the harassment finding has no effect. In essence, it is reduced to the expression of an opinion by the members of a student faculty committee that no longer has any jurisdiction to hear similar cases in the future. The finding does not represent the official position of the university.
While President Bacow’s response clearly indicates he cares about free speech on his campus, Dr. Ross was still unsatisfied. He rebutted as follows:
[T]he fact remains that The Primary Source was found guilty of harassment by the Tufts Committee on Student Life, which was acting in an official capacity at the time. I infer that they were acting in an official capacity from the fact that the report of the outcome of their hearing carries the Tufts official insignia on its front page. I have attached a copy of this report as a PDF. Given the fact that Tufts has decided—rightly—that the harassment finding was wrong (and it really was dead wrong, check out the U.S. Office for Civil Rights official position on this topic at http://www.thefire.org/pdfs/5046_3487.pdf), you owe it to the public, and to your own honor and that of Tufts, to publicly retract the harassment finding.
You write that the finding “has no effect.” But this is wrong; it has had a large effect on The Primary Source, a modest one on the rest of the Tufts community, and a small one on our society generally. You write that “[t]he finding does not represent the official position of the university.” That’s good, of course. But the mistaken harassment finding was the official position of the university at the time it was made.
To finish the good job you’ve started, President Bacow, you need to declare publicly and unequivocally what is implicit in your actions and your statements: The Primary Source was not guilty of harassment, Tufts recognizes them as innocent of harassment contrary to the finding of the Committee on Student Life.
Dr. Ross is spot on. President Bacow is headed in the right direction but the problem of the Tufts Committee on Student Life’s decision still poses a threat to freedom of expression at Tufts and is still in need of defenestration. We await President Bacow to act. Until then Tufts University will remain on FIRE’s Red Alert.