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Harvard dean: ‘Faculty speech must have limits’ when it ‘incites external actors’

‘The truth is that free speech has limits,’ Dean of Social Science Lawrence Bobo says

A dean at Harvard University wants prominent faculty to be careful what they say, lest it invites Congressional scrutiny or loses money for the school.

Furthermore, he suggested faculty could be punished for sharing their views in an op-ed titled “Faculty speech must have limits.”

Dean of Social Science Lawrence Bobo explained why on Saturday in The Harvard Crimson.

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

“Yes it is and yes it does,” he said.

The first question came after Bobo wrote of “prominent affiliates, including one former University president, [who] publicly denounced Harvard’s students and present leadership.”

That “former University president,” is probably Lawrence Summers, who has been critical of Harvard’s response to antisemitism.

Bobo wrote further:

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, 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. 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.

The comments drew criticism from Sarah Lawrence College Professor Samuel Abrams and Steve McGuire of the American Council of Alumni and Trustees.

Bobo should have recognized “Harvard is under intense scrutiny and suffering a reputational crisis because it has proven itself to be morally and intellectually corrupt,” the pair wrote in Minding the Campus.

Instead, “Professor Bobo thinks the way to restore calm to campus is to weaken the academic freedom of Harvard’s faculty even further.”

The university has regularly punished dissenting views, the pair noted. This includes Carole Hooven, for saying there are two sexes, and Tyler VanderWeele, for defending Biblical marriage.

To that list, let’s add the cancellation of Kit Parker’s community-driven policing class.

Dean Bobo, according to Abrams and McGuire, “participated in the punishment of Professor Roland Fryer, whose academic work Bobo had previously criticized.”

Fryer, a black academic, conducted a study that debunked the claims that racism is behind police shootings. In fact, black suspects are less likely to be shot than suspects of other races, as The Fix previously reported.

“After a sexual harassment investigation recommended sensitivity training for Professor Fryer, Professor Bobo and the then-dean of FAS Claudine Gay suspended him for two years and closed his lab,” the pair wrote.

“The idea that Harvard should respond to scrutiny by closing in on itself and punishing faculty who make public criticisms of the university is both perfectly on brand and so stunningly obtuse that it beggars belief.”

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.