Censorship at Harvard Comes as No Surprise

On July 16th of last year, Subramanian Swamy, a longtime summer session professor of Economics at Harvard University, wrote a scathing op-ed in an Indian newspaper advocating radical political changes in response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks three days previous. While many members of the Harvard community were upset by Swamy’s suggestions—which included the replacing of Muslim holy sites with Hindu ones, and the denial of voting rights to those who do not concede India’s Hindu heritage—Harvard’s administration at first stood by their economics professor in the name of academic freedom. But the faculty found another way to get rid of ideas they deemed unacceptable; in an unprecedented maneuver, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences re-labeled Swamy’s speech “incitement” and voted last month to strip his course from the Summer School catalogue, a de-facto firing. The maneuver – to de-list a course from the catalogue as a way of effectively firing (without formally firing – a power that the faculty does not possess) a politically incorrect faculty member – is worthy of Machiavelli, but unworthy of a liberal arts institution of higher learning.

As a graduate of Harvard Law School and as someone who taught a course there in the mid-1980s just before the current censorial atmosphere took root, I wrote this piece with considerable sadness. On Forbes.com, I argue that the Harvard faculty’s move should come as no surprise, but rather fits into a decades-long and unfortunate pattern of censorship at the university. 

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"Thou Shalt Not Watch Whales Eating"--The Economist

A recent issue of the economist details one of the more absurd federal prosecutions I've come across in recent years. For the "crime" of attempting to film killer whales eating, a marine biologist could face up to 20 years in prison. 
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Have Gun? Don't Travel!

In December of 2011, a series of arrests for gun possession charges in New York City raised a number of important—if perhaps unexpected—legal issues. A number of individuals with valid conceal/carry gun permits issued outside of the city had attempted to “check” their guns—whether at the Empire State Building lobby, the airport, or in one case the 9/11 memorial—and were arrested under the NYC gun law, which recognizes the validity of no outside permits, and carries with it a mandatory minimum sentence of three and a half years in state prison for possession of a loaded weapon. Many commentators have focused their ire on the specific nature of the New York City gun law itself, or have otherwise used the cases as a launching point for a discussion of the Second Amendment’s requirements.

In the piece we posted today on Forbes.com, Daniel Schwartz and I discuss, instead, the dangerously diminishing importance of “intent” in the criminal law—the so-called mens rea requirement that an individual be aware that he is committing a crime before he can be found guilty. Combined with the existence of mandatory minimum sentences, this creates a toxic soup that invites a seemingly radical remedy: “jury nullification,” or the controversial idea that juries have the power (even if not the clear right) to “nullify” unjust laws by voting for acquittal even when a person is, technically, in violation of the statute. Jury nullification, we argue, is essential in a free society that has gone off the rails in terms of prosecutorial abuse. While my book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (updated paperback June 2011 from Encounter Books) details federal law injustices, Schwartz and I point out in this forbes.com piece that state legal systems are not entirely immune from similarly abusive tactics.

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Greg Lukianoff in the Washington Post: Clear Campus Rules Needed on Harassment

I started the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education because of a trend I began to detect in the 1980’s; initially often well-meaning attempts to make campuses more welcoming were leading to a watering-down of free speech and academic freedom at our universities. “Political correctness”—the convention that makes equivocation and dishonesty de rigeur for a “polite” and “comfortable” environment—became the norm.


Today, Greg Lukianoff, the President of FIRE, published an op-ed in the Washington Post. In his piece, he describes the history of university infringements on freedom of speech, and points to the growing use of spurious and at times outlandish claims of “harassment” to censor students. Lukianoff calls for far clearer, and more just, campus harassment rules, in order to provide an environment of real academic discourse and inquiry.

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Will Harvard Stop Trying to Impose Orthodoxies?


I have great respect (and concern) for college students. As I told one Boston Herald reporter not too long ago, “Never declare war on the young, They’ll outlast you, they’ll outthink you, they’ll outdo you.” To the Herald I was commenting about the government’s attempt to get the identity of anonymous “Occupy tweeters,” but I could just as easily have been castigating college administrators. Too often the administration and faculty attempt to foist an orthodoxy or ideology onto their youthful charges; sometimes they are successful, but often, the students are able to stand up and educate their elders on the importance of freedom of speech and individual conscience.

In my piece on Mindingthecampus.com, I compliment a recent Harvard Crimson editorial that stands up to administrators and faculty all too eager to proclaim Harvard’s solidarity with a political movement. The Crimson staff was able to see the slippery slope inherent in a university’s proposed institutional support for a political cause; the students had a clarity of vision their elders, including their teachers, so often lack. But in the piece I also describe ways in which the Crimson editorial board has been far from perfect in its recent defense of free speech. Harvard’s constant assault on student freedom of speech and conscience—please see my research assistant Daniel Schwartz’s latest article here, published by FIRE in their academic journal “The Lantern,” for a longer explication—has taken a toll. Even the Crimson, a formerly uniformly reliable bulwark against administrative overreach, has during recent times acquiesced to the politically correct pressures exerted by faculty and administration. One hopes that freedom of speech and thought can be restored to our campuses before administrators and professors complete the task of brainwashing their young charges. 

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