Hypocrisy and the Harvard Faculty

November 16, 2007

FIRE co-founder Harvey Silverglate has a great blog post over at The Free For All discussing a recent resolution at a Harvard University faculty meeting:

The latest head-shaking Harvard story is that anthropology professor J. Lorand Matory introduced a one-sentence resolution at a faculty meeting stating that “this Faculty commits itself to fostering civil dialogue in which people with a broad range of perspectives feel safe and are encouraged to express their reasoned and evidence-based ideas.” Professor Matory, according to the Harvard Crimson, “has claimed that critics of Israel, like himself, ‘tremble in fear’ of repercussions for their views.”

To begin with, the resolution is problematic in that it assumes that only reasoned and evidence-based ideas should be protected. This ignores the historical importance of speculative ideas in academia—a hallmark of academic freedom is the ability to try out completely new ideas. Matory, by contrast, seems to assume that theory has to be “evidence-based” rather than philosophical in order to merit any sort of protection.
Furthermore, as Harvey points out, the resolution ignores recent history at Harvard:

As a pretty close student of the goings-on at Harvard…I have to say that the only faculty member I know who actually did suffer for his views on Israel was Lawrence Summers, who happened to be the university president at the time he gave a speech positing a possible link between animosity toward Israel and anti-Semitism or the appearance of anti-Semitism. That speech, plus another unpopular speech supporting the ROTC program, which Harvard’s faculty stripped of university funding in 1995, capped off by Summers’ infamous musing on women’s suitability for careers in science made Summers sufficiently vulnerable so that a no-confidence resolution introduced by none other than Professor Matory caused Harvard’s governing body to vote “no confidence” in Summers, resulting in his resignation in February 2006.

Thus, it is rather ironic to see the very same Professor Matory, a leader and enforcer of all things politically correct on Harvard’s campus, now claim that he feels “unsafe” in expressing certain views on campus. For another perspective on Matory’s misstep, check out this column from today’s Harvard Crimson, which makes several astute points about the entire episode. As Harvey discusses in his blog, Matory’s hypocrisy is all too evident:

Presumably, had Harvard truly dedicated itself to a culture that fostered “civil dialogue in which people with a broad range of perspectives feel safe and are encouraged to express their reasoned and evidence-based ideas,” Summers would still be Harvard’s president.

But instead, a double standard appears to rule on Harvard’s campus.

Schools:  Harvard University