Harvard And Free Speech: What Would William James Say?
06/16/2024
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An op-ed from the Harvard Crimson:

Faculty Speech Must Have Limits

By Lawrence D. Bobo
Lawrence D. Bobo [Email him] is Dean of Social Science and the W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.

A sociologist, Bobo was appointed Dean of Social Science by Claudine Gay in 2018. Gay and Bobo then teamed up to get economics department superstar Roland Fryer suspended.

Yesterday

… Is it outside the bounds of acceptable professional conduct for a [Harvard] faculty member to excoriate University leadership, faculty, staff, or students with the intent to arouse external intervention into University business? And does the broad publication of such views cross a line into sanctionable violations of professional conduct?

Yes it is and yes it does.

Vigorous debate is to be expected and encouraged at any University interested in promoting freedom of expression. But here is the rub: As the events of the past year evidence

E.g., his mentor, Harvard president Claudine Gay, getting fired after her plagiarism was discovered.

, sharply critical speech from faculty, prominent ones especially, can attract outside attention that directly impedes the University’s function.

A faculty member’s right to free speech does not amount to a blank check to engage in behaviors that plainly incite external actors—be it the media, alumni, donors, federal agencies, or the government—to intervene in Harvard’s affairs.

Bobo doesn’t seem to recognize the philosophical conundrum inherent in his public demand that Harvard rescind its long tradition of freedom of expression for Harvard professors. He’s attempting to incite external actors to intervene in Harvard’s affairs and impose a system of centralism reminiscent of the Counter Reformation papacy and Lenin’s Politburo.

Along with freedom of expression and the protection of tenure comes a responsibility to exercise good professional judgment and to refrain from conscious action that would seriously harm the University and its independence.

What would harm Harvard University is of course a question that Harvard professors cannot be expected to hold a valid opinion upon when they disagree with the current Harvard administration. After all, Harvard professors die, while Claudine Gay will be president for all eternity.

Or something.

… But many faculty at Harvard enjoy an external stature that also opens to them much broader platforms for potential advocacy. Figures such as Raj Chetty ’00, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Jill Lepore, or Steven A. Pinker have well-earned notoriety that reaches far beyond the academy.

And it’s a bad thing that many people outside Harvard respect the opinions of Steven Pinker.

Would it simply be an ordinary act of free speech for those faculty to repeatedly denounce the University, its students, fellow faculty, or leadership? The truth is that free speech has limits—it’s why you can’t escape sanction for shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.

Xi Jinping would definitely agree.

[Comment at Unz.com]

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