Truth in Advertising at Harvard

June 15, 2005

At FIRE, one of our core beliefs is that universities must engage in truth in advertising. That is, if a university restricts and/or punishes student or faculty speech, it should say so openly so that prospective students can decide to attend that college or university with full information. Sadly, many colleges and universities do not do this. A look through FIRE’s database of speech codes reveals that many universities with restrictive speech codes advertise themselves to prospective students as bastions of free expression.  A striking example of this has just arisen: CNN is reporting that “[a] Harvard brochure sent to thousands of prospective students included a doctored photo of the student newspaper’s front page that removed a headline about the university president facing a confidence vote.” (You can view the doctored photo here). As you may know, Harvard President Larry Summers drew intense criticism for suggesting, in a speech during a Harvard academic conference, that innate gender differences might be one reason underlying women’s underrepresentation in math, science, and engineering departments. According to Harvard’s dean of admissions and financial aid, “the decision to run the altered photo was a mistake made under deadline pressure by the school’s admissions office and the Boston design firm that helped produce the brochure.” However, the facts remain that the photo was intentionally altered in the first place, and was sent out to thousands of prospective students. Is Harvard afraid to let prospective students know that its president is under fire for academic comments made at an academic conference?

Schools:  Harvard University