Thursday, January 5, 2012

Certainty at Harvard

Those on the staff of Harvard's student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, have finally balked at the politicization of their university.  Last month, Professor Susan Suleiman, a supporter of the Occupy movement, called on the faculty of the university to make an official statement against "social inequalities."  This was too much for the Crimson staff, and a newspaper editorial complained that "asking the University to issue statements about issues as broad as social inequality detracts from its educational mission."  Unfortunately, the students still support many other forms of politicization.

While they acknowledge that "Harvard has a responsibility first and foremost to promote free discourse," they qualify the acknowledgement by saying "there are certainly instances when limits must be imposed." I have no idea where they get this certainty, but the word "limits" links to the Crimson's earlier support for the Harvard faculty's decision to eliminate classes taught by Economics Professor Subramanian Swamy for an editorial he wrote about Indian political issues for a publication in India. So, I guess they mean that limits "must be imposed" whenever you think you really don't like something someone says anywhere in the world. Or maybe they mean that accusations of racism, religious intolerance, or some other kind of forbidden thinking "certainly" justify suppression. That doesn't seem to me like a very strong endorsement of "free discourse."

The Crimson also writes, "to be sure [?], there are some instances in which Harvard’s political involvement is necessary and proper." The instances it cites are the DREAM Act for the education of undocumented alien minors and the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  Now, it may be that every single individual on the newspaper staff agreed with the DREAM Act and supported the repeal of the U.S. military policy.  If so, the paper could and should have written plenty of editorials expressing these positions. But if one is really committed to "free discourse," one must be open to the possibility that other Harvard students could conceivably have seen these political issues differently.  When the university as an institution takes a position on a political issue, it puts aside its role as a forum for intellectual exchange and imposes orthodoxy.

The student journalists, moreover, don't reject entirely the idea that the university should be promoting political goals. "As an institution," they write, "Harvard should promote greater social responsibility by encouraging an ethic of public service among its students." So, the university shouldn't make political statements, but it should indoctrinate its pupils in the correct socio-political ethic.  Oh, but Harvard won't call it indoctrination. It will probably call the pursuit of doctrinal uniformity something like "critical thinking."

I'm glad that Harvard students have objected to this latest faculty call to conformity. I only wish that the students at the nation's oldest and best-known university would really support freedom of thought and expression.

1 comment:

  1. It seems the Crimson has forgotten the difference between tolerance and acceptance, and decided they can't tolerate anything they don't personally accept.

    (Just stumbled across your blog. A breath of fresh air. Will tune in regularly from Syracuse U.)