John Silber, tough witness, R.I.P.

John Silber, the former Boston University president who passed away last Thursday, September 27th, was known for many things. I tussled with him here and there, such as when he tried to fire some leftist members of the faculty whose academic freedom, I thought, protected them from such action. However, I also witnessed his principled attempt to fight back against the idiocy of the university thought police that remains a plague in American higher education.

In my most recent piece for, however, I tell a less well-known Silber story that illustrates his courage and integrity. In 1986, federal prosecutors tried to get Silber to finger then Boston Mayor Kevin White in a corruption investigation of City Hall. They subpoenaed Silber to testify before a secret anti-corruption grand jury. Instead of invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, Silber took the witness stand and told it like it is. The feds proved not up to the task of getting Silber (in Alan Dershowitz’ immortal phrase) not only to sing, but also to compose.

The column after the jump...

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Harvard, Where Civility Trumps Free Speech

Last year, Harvard’s Freshman Dean Thomas Dingman drew the wrath of former Dean of Harvard College Harry Lewis, as well as the mockery of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for pressuring incoming students to sign a pledge that "the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment." This year, Dean Dingman abandoned the criticized pledge tactic (in what turns out to be nothing more than a tactical retreat) but not his overriding commitment to imposing on students’ freedom of conscience. Without any public pre-announcement (which doomed last year's thought-reform efforts), Dean Dingman managed to slip a stealth re-education program into Harvard's freshman orientation week. As part of this “sensitivity training” students were made to perform skits where they acted out civility, as the Harvard administration defined it. In my most recent column for Minding the Campus, co-authored with my research assistant Juliana DeVries, I explain how this turn of events fits the Harvard administration into a long history of authoritarian intrusions into freedom of thought, yet nary a word of protest has been heard from Harvard students, alumni, faculty, and governing boards.

The column after the jump... 

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Political Wisdom in a Hypocritical Age

I’ve been asked many times of late where I stand in the current presidential race. This has raised for me larger questions, the answers to some of which have perhaps become evident in my writings of recent years. So when The Phoenix (successor, as of today’s inaugural issue now on newsstands, in street boxes, and at,to the decades-old Boston Phoenix) asked me to write a “Freedom Watch” essay on the politics of the day, I made an attempt to compress many thoughts on numerous complicated issues into a brief essay. I hope that I’ve succeeded in enlightening rather than confusing my readers.

You can find some of the article after the jump.
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Hooliganism in Moscow, Bullying in Delaware: A Rose by Any Other Name

The American press rightfully has been having a field day berating the Putin government for its use of the infamous “hooliganism” statute in the “Pussy Riot” controversy. But back here in the States, the University of Delaware has begun using an equally vague handle – denominated a “disruptive conduct” code – to abolish what is increasingly becoming the American analogy to Russia’s “hooliganism,” namely “bullying” or “harassment.” In my most recent column for, co-authored with my research assistant and FIRE Program Associate Juliana DeVries, we point out that, while just about everyone has come out to condemn the Russian court system, very little attention has been paid to this outrageous free speech violation right here at home. The column after the jump...

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Gibson Is Off the Feds' Hook. Who's Next?

On July 30, I wrote a piece on my “Injustice Department” blog on discussing the narrow-mindedness of the Gibson Guitar Company CEO’s claim in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the United States Justice Department is waging a war against capitalism. It is a war, I suggested, against many sectors of civil society.

Since that piece went up, Gibson Guitar has entered into a deal with the DOJ in which it sort-of admits guilt to alleged violations of the Lacey Act, pays a whopping fine, and will emerge without a criminal conviction in the end. Gibson took this step even though the company and its CEO earlier had publicly proclaimed their innocence. My latest piece, published in today’s Wall Street Journal, explains how corrupt plea-bargaining practices at the Department of Justice, as opposed to actual guilt, likely led to Gibson’s guilty plea and, most disturbingly, to its agreement to stick to a negotiated script with regard to the question of guilt versus innocence. As is increasingly true at the Department of Justice – via a process that has been gaining momentum since at least the mid-1980s – there is no longer a principled and discernible line between truth and falsehood.

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