Harvey Silverglate on the ‘Slow Death of Free Speech at Harvard’

November 5, 2013

Late last month, FIRE co-founder and chairman (and Harvard Law School alumnus) Harvey Silverglate delivered a speech to the Harvard Law School class of 1958 at its 55th reunion. Harvey used the occasion to share an eye-opening series of stories that reveal Harvard University’s accelerating trend of censorship and compelled speech.

Harvey started by recalling a case early in his career in which he defended a group of students whose speech would almost certainly be punished under harassment codes today. He reviewed the creation of Harvard Law’s sexual harassment policies, and Harvard Business School’s threatening student journalists over an innocuous cartoon. More recently, though, Harvard has been employing more insidious strategies to ensure uniformity in its students’ viewpoints:

[I]n 2011 … Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman announced that a “kindness pledge” would be posted in the entryway of every freshman residence hall, and each member of the Class of 2015 would be asked to sign the oath on a line designated for his or her signature. The pledge read, in part: “we commit to upholding the values of the College and to making the entryway and Yard a place where all can thrive and where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment.” … The Oath would remain posted in the entryway of each dorm all year, so that it would be visible, for all to see who in the class presumably valued kindness and who did not or, put another way, who was a good and righteous human being and who was not.

Dingman halted this plan in the face of criticism, but instead incorporated a “stealth attitudinal re-education program into Harvard’s freshman orientation week.”

Harvard students, in turn, are “unlearning liberty”; a 2011 editorial in The Harvard Crimson, for example, commended the school for its actions against a professor who had his controversial views published in an Indian newspaper.

Read the rest of Harvey’s speech about how Harvard “has become dangerous for the dissenting voice” inMinding the Campus.

Image: Harvard University building 

Schools:  Harvard University