New England Ivies Earn ‘Muzzle Awards’ from FIRE Chairman

July 2, 2010

With Independence Day on the horizon, the Boston Phoenix turns its annual spotlight upon those who have ignored our nation’s founding freedoms.

The “Muzzle Awards” are the undesired accolades reserved for the self-appointed censors of New Englandpoliticians, police officers, judges, and public transportation officials, to name a few. This year, in the 13th installment of this award-winning series, special attention is devoted to colleges and universities, courtesy of FIRE Co-founder and Chairman Harvey Silverglate.

Harvey focuses the 2010 Campus Muzzle Awards on transgressions at Harvard University (his alma mater) and Yale University, both of which “have helped pave the censorial frontiers of the corporatized academy, while employing public-relations armies to perpetuate the aura of the liberal-arts sensibility,” writes Harvey.

Torch readers may be familiar with some cases discussed in the Campus Muzzles, such as Harvard Medical School’s restrictive media policy, Harvard undergraduates disinviting a controversial speaker, and Yale University Press’ censorship of cartoons in a book about those very cartoons.

Less familiar, perhaps, is Harvard University’s speech-suppressive employee “confidentiality agreement.” Though not part of FIRE’s usual territory, the policy nonetheless illustrates what Harvey sees as these elite institutions’ emphasis on “controlling the message.”

Harvard employees were required, this past year, to sign a stringent “confidentiality agreement,” a ban on disclosure of “information about a person or an entity that, if disclosed, could … be damaging to financing standing, employability, reputation or other interests [emphasis added].” This serves to insulate not only Harvard, but also its administrators, from public criticism. “Other interests,” of course, are in the eyes of the beholder. And few employees would risk venturing to find out what they might be.

Read about the rest of the Campus Muzzles on the Boston Phoenix website here.

Schools:  Harvard University Yale University