In order to speak at the Harvard Law School Forum, you must pass a political litmus test.
That’s what constitutional law scholar Bruce Fein learned after the nonpartisan student organization invited him and then quickly disinvited him when he gave the wrong answer on a polarizing legal question.
“[T]he censorship craze infecting higher education has spread from the area of gender combat into the more esoteric arena of international politics and historical interpretation,” according to Harvey Silverglate, former Harvard Law lecturer and co-founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
The civil-liberties lawyer writes for Boston’s WGBH that the Forum’s move is particularly concerning because it’s the “premier free speech organization” at Harvard Law, and Fein was planning to lecture on “the beleaguered rule of law in the age of Trump.”
The student group gave Fein carte blanche to choose his subject when it invited him in late January, but days later asked a question “that bore no obvious relationship to the topic of his proposed lecture,” according to Silverglate.
The question: Fein’s views on “the historical accuracy of the claim that an Armenian genocide occurred after the First World War.”
That’s certainly because Fein is known for legal analysis, and related legal work, that says the wholesale slaughter of Armenians did not rise to the level of “genocide” as defined by the United Nations.
It’s not an abstract legal question either, according to Silverglate:
Aside from sensitivity to the verdict of history, both sides of the controversy recognize a practical aspect to the dispute, since victims of genocide under international law are entitled to seek reparations from the victimizers. Hence, for Turkey and Armenia there is money as well as the verdict of history at stake.
In fact, Fein consulted for Silverglate when he represented a “Turkish-American association, two Massachusetts public school teachers, and a public school student” in one such case regarding speech on the Armenian genocide.
When Fein explained “the nature, nuances and historical basis of his views” on the legal question, the Forum disinvited him because “our views on the Ottoman action against Armenians after World War I diverge slightly from yours.”
Fein wrote to Dean John Manning saying he recognizes the Forum’s right to exclude him for his views. But the scholar asked him to examine the school’s “free speech instruction or precepts based upon my encounter with the HLSF Board’s censorship,” which reminded him of the “Spanish Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada or the Pope’s Index of Forbidden Books.”
According to Silverglate, Fein also proposed a debate on the Forum’s decision to disinvite him at the National Press Club in Washington, where Fein is based. The Forum hasn’t responded as of Monday.
The College Fix has asked the Forum to respond to Silverglate’s article.