Boston College Researchers Drink with the IRA, and Academics Everywhere Get the Hangover

Often the most precipitous modes of inquiry are the most vital. Certainly, that was how Anthony McIntyre and Ed Maloney felt when they founded the Belfast Project, a Boston College-based oral history project that would solicit candid narratives of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. The wound in Ireland is still raw, and it is therefore unsurprising that Belfast Project interviewees were promised that their stories would be kept secret until their deaths.

But last month, a federal judge in Massachusetts ordered Boston College to turn over many of the transcripts in order to aid with the police investigation into a forty year old unsolved murder in Ireland. In our piece this week on Forbes.com, Daniel Schwartz and I discuss the judge’s decision and argue that, while it pays lip service to the importance of academic freedom, it does not go nearly far enough to protect society’s interests and could end up setting a very unfortunate precedent for scholars engaged in sensitive research. 

Take a look at an excerpt of our piece after the jump, or read it in its entirety by clicking here

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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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