Recently, a group of Harvard professors made national headlines for banding together to form a group dedicated to a cause that should be obviously worth rallying behind: academic freedom.
We agree with the Board that these concerns about suppression of speech from both sides of the political aisle are certainly well-substantiated. Almost 60 percent of college students report reluctance to discuss controversial topics — almost the same share of adults reporting that the political climate prevents them from expressing their ideas.
Clearly, something is wrong with our discourse.
Cultivating a culture of fruitful discussions involves more than just avoiding censorship; we must also strive to listen to one another with an open mind, in order to create an environment where we can engage with challenging concepts and find veritas. Our Board said it best: “we must make an effort to understand opposing arguments in good faith.”
We could not agree more, and were thus disappointed by the Board’s assumption today that the Council of Academic Freedom at Harvard’s mission is not a genuine effort to support academic freedom. By calling the council’s explanation for its formation “dishonest” and thereby assuming malicious intent from the signatories, the Board has failed to practice the very credit and kindness it has called upon others to extend in civil discourse.
In a similar assumption, the Board criticizes the council’s supposed conflation of academic freedom with freedom from criticism. In fact, the council’s own statements explicitly draw a distinction between these two concepts, even encouraging criticism. Its press release could not state it more clearly: “Academic freedom does not mean freedom from criticism – quite the opposite.”
It seems that the Board has more beliefs in common with the council than they are willing to admit.
We also take issue with the unconstructive nature of the Board’s criticism. Persuading more than 100 faculty members to sign onto any kind of council is quite a feat; to unite such a diverse cohort is even more difficult. The Board’s failure to propose a better initiative for defending free speech and inability to recognize the sheer size of this council does not serve justice to the impressive achievement of convincing dozens of Harvard faculty members to join notoriously conservative Government professor Harvey C. Mansfield Jr. ’53 behind a cause.
Furthermore, singling out three of the 100-plus members of the council as proof of its flaws seems unfair. Although we may criticize some faculty on this campus, it would be contradictory for a council designated to protect academic speech to refuse membership to some professors on the basis of their work. We applaud the council’s decision to make membership open to all members of the faculty, particularly non-tenured members who may be more fearful of backlash to their opinions, and hope that they continue to do so in the future.
Should the signatories fail to live up to the ideals contained in the announcement, we’ll be the first to criticize them. But we should begin by assuming good faith and remaining hopeful about the council. Their proactive goals — lecture series, workshops, and classes — will be welcome additions to campus, and we look forward to this council defending the academic freedom that is so vital to our campus.
Aden Barton ’24, an Associate Editorial Editor, is an Economics concentrator in Eliot House. Jacob M. Miller ’25, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Mathematics concentrator in Lowell House. Ivor K. Zimmerman ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Classics concentrator in Kirkland House.
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.