Muzzles on campus

By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  July 11, 2012

Rather than respecting the Comment's journalistic freedom and its choice to report already-public information accurately, BSU President Dana Mohler-Faria summoned Comment Editor Mary Polleys and its faculty advisor, Dave Copeland, to a meeting where, according to the Comment, Mohler-Faria threatened the newspaper's existence. Enterprise News said that University spokesman Bryan Baldwin, speaking for Mohler-Faria's office, "would not say what the meeting accomplished and whether the administration threatened to take action against the newspaper. But both Copeland, a part-time english [sic] and journalism professor, and Polleys say it did." According to the Boston Globe, spokesman Baldwin said that "Mohler-Faria 'certainly encouraged' Polleys to remove the article to protect the student's privacy," but "denied that Mohler-Faria threatened to shut down the paper."

Even if no further action is taken by BSU administrators, the perception of a presidential threat alone likely will chill controversial reporting in the future. For such threats to freedom of the speech, Bridgewater State University has earned its first Muzzle Award.


Once again, Harvard sweeps the competition for Worst Free Speech Abusers on Campus, this year responsible for a whopping three of the most egregious violations in New England.

Last summer, Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) effectively fired economics professor Subramanian Swamy after he published a controversial opinion piece in the Indian newspaper Daily News & Analysis in the wake of Mumbai's July 13 terrorist bombing. Swamy, a prominent politician in India, suggested numerous ways to counteract "the political goals of Islamic terrorism." Suggestions included removing mosques built at temple sites and disenfranchising non-Hindus. The op-ed understandably offended many members of the Harvard community, and a group of students signed a petition asking for Swamy's removal from Harvard.

In a glimmering moment of hope for the marketplace of ideas — even bad ideas — Harvard's administration released a statement emphasizing protection of free speech as "central to the mission of a university." But this was hardly the end of the matter. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, led by Professor Diana Eck, charged ahead and voted to remove Swamy's courses from the summer schedule, effectively firing him. "There is a distinction between unpopular and unwelcome political views," Eck told the Harvard Crimson. At Harvard, perhaps, but not in the United States: the First Amendment requires evidence of incitement to imminent lawless action before speech may be banned (Supreme Court, Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969), a standard to which Swamy's op-ed clearly falls short. As it is ruefully said, speech lawful in Harvard Square is banned in Harvard Yard.


For the first time in its 375 years, Harvard's freshman dean, Thomas Dingman, asked this year's freshmen to sign a pledge which included the axiom — remarkable for a major academic institution — that "the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment." The "voluntary" pledge was initially to be posted near dormitory entrances with signatures visibly affixed, making it clear who had signed, and who had not.

Universities have historically been places dedicated to intellectual rigor and, as an extension, to protecting the often harsh and sometimes disturbing debates that accompany the exploration of new ideas. True intellectual pursuits are obviously irreconcilable with this kindness pledge. One is reminded of an elementary-school report card, with a box for the teacher to check for "works and plays well with others."

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