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Harvard student government wants review of free speech guidelines to advance inclusiveness

Student newspaper says not to change the guidelines

The Harvard Undergraduate Council recently passed legislation that asks for a new committee to look at the free speech guidelines of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“The Free Speech Guidelines are a critical component of creating what Dean Gay described in Harvard’s new, anti-racist agenda as an ‘inclusive scholarly community,’” the legislation says, according to The Crimson.

The campus newspaper did not link to a copy of the legislation.

The College Fix reached out to the student government through email and its Instagram page multiple times in the past two weeks. The Fix asked for comment on the free-speech climate, what revisions it would like to see and for a copy of the legislation.

The College Fix messaged four student government representatives on Instagram and asked for the language of the bill, what incidents prompted them to seek changes and what revisions they wanted.

The Fix reached out to LyLena Estabine, Shreya Nair, Anant Rajan and Anjali Chakradhar.

The guidelines, in place since 1990, promise to protect all speech, even some views considered “noxious.”

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“We are committing to maintaining a climate in which reason and speech provide the correct response to a disagreeable idea,” the guidelines say.

The free speech rules also prioritize “the speaker’s right of expression and the audience’s right to listen.”

The Fix reached out to Rachael Dane, a spokesperson for FAS and Dean Claudia Gay on the morning of November 4. Neither responded to questions about if they had reviewed the bill, if they could share a copy of it and if they planned to establish a committee.

The editorial board of the student paper said it is fine with a review of the policies, but is worried about what the end result will be.

The undergraduate council should instead focus on “disseminating our current guidelines more widely,” the editorial board said, “or championing adherence to our current free speech standards across Harvard’s campus.”

“We are extremely wary of any attempt to reduce or alter the freedoms that these guidelines promote,” the Crimson editors said. “We worry that a committee such as the one the UC proposes, at least without understanding the true purpose of the legislation, would threaten to do just that.”

A handful of free speech controversies this year

While the Undergraduate Council would not provide The Fix with specific examples of free-speech controversies on campus that have prompted a call for revision, there are a handful to choose from.

The university canceled a course on innovative policing tactics taught by the engineering school in the spring semester, after activists complained.

Engineering school Dean Francis Doyle canceled Professor Kit Parker’s course that planned to have graduate students study and give feedback about a community-oriented policing strategy called Counter-Criminal Continuum.

The Undergraduate Council previously supported removing a government professor, David Kane, who had invited sociologist Charles Murray to speak to his class. Kane allegedly wrote anonymous blog posts critical of affirmative action and some posts deemed racially offensive. The Crimson called for Kane to be fired.

One professor criticized Murray and said that white people use free-speech as a cover.

“The question of free speech on campus is defined as more-or-less equivalent to the question of the rights of white men and conservatives to disrespect, insult, bait, and degrade everyone else,” African and African American Studies Professor Walter Johnson told The Crimson in 2020.

“The performance art of white instigation is indicative not of the embattled character of free speech (read: white privilege),” Johnson said, “but of its strength on college campuses, of the extraordinary support that a doughy mediocrity like Charles Murray can command.”

MORE: Harvard theatre group hosts blacks-only theatre performance

IMAGE: Andrii Avram/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Leana Dippie is a student at the University of Florida where she is pre-law, majoring in political science and English. She serves on the executive board for her local Turning Point USA and College Republicans chapters. She is also CCO for a political action committee.