Muzzles on campus

By HARVEY SILVERGLATE  |  July 11, 2012

But regardless of the content of the pledge, having students commit themselves to the political and ideological values of an institution, whatever those values are claimed to be under one or another administration, runs counter to freedom of conscience. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put it In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, writing for the majority in this 1943 case upholding the First Amendment right of a Jehovah's Witness student to refuse to pledge allegiance to the flag (seen by Witnesses as a form of idolatry): "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us." A pledge to kindness is hardly that exception, particularly on a liberal arts college campus.

Dingman caved under outside pressure and agreed to take down the signature lists. (Disclosure: some of that pressure was exerted by FIRE.) But the pledge itself remained on dorm entryways — a powerful scepter in the hands of those who would allow for an education only so far as it can be reconciled with the teachings of charm school.


Beginning in November 2011, Harvard locked the gates to its campus for almost six weeks, with entrance permitted only for Harvard ID-holders. The university says it turned away countless tourists and passers-through in order to "protect" a group of students, who were camped out in Harvard Yard as part of the Occupy movement.

Occupy Harvard students objected to the university's so-called protection, and understandably so. The closure clearly was directed not at protecting the students, but, rather, at keeping the outside world from witnessing a political demonstration by students enrolled in what many deem a college by, of and for the one-percenters. Free speech and academic freedom played second fiddle to the demands of PR.

For this, Harvard gets its third Muzzle Award for the year, demonstrating that, at least in some areas, Harvard really ranks number one.

The assistance of Juliana DeVries is gratefully acknowledged in the preparation of this piece.

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