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Some Harvard scholars demand return to academic freedom, free speech on campus

‘Harvard is a vastly less tolerant place than it was when I arrived in 1998’

As controversy engulfs Harvard University, three of its professors recently censured administrators for promulgating leftist ideology at the expense of academic freedom and called for a return to free speech and open inquiry on campus.

Law Professor J. Mark Ramseyer, psychology Professor Steven Pinker, and Professor of Medicine Jeffrey Flier are all members of the Council on Academic Freedom, a group formed last April by over 70 Harvard professors to promote free speech and inquiry.

Ramseyer criticized the growing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion bureaucracy at Harvard, noting in an email to The College Fix that “the DEI statements required of job applicants are a straightforward political loyalty oath.”

“Harvard is a vastly less tolerant place than it was when I arrived in 1998,” he said in an email posted on X by former Harvard biology Professor Carole Hooven, who stopped teaching at the Ivy League institution last fall after backlash for arguing sex is binary.

Ramseyer described the current intolerance as a product of “an increasingly large fraction of our colleagues” spreading their political ideologies across campus. He also placed blame on himself and other professors who were “scared to speak up” and let it happen, while praising some alumni for “trying to rescue Harvard from what we let it become.”

Similarly, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker published an op-ed last month in the Boston Globe in which he denounced Harvard’s “notorious incidents of cancelation and censorship” over the past year and cited a ranking that placed Harvard last in free speech out of 248 universities.

Pinker argued that many assaults on academic freedom and common sense at Harvard originated from its DEI initiatives, which he described as “a burgeoning bureaucracy” that “enforc[es] a uniformity of opinion, a hierarchy of victim groups, and the exclusion of freethinkers.”

A recent analysis by The College Fix found that at Harvard there are 2,600 more administrators than undergrads at the school, and many employees are dedicated to advancing DEI initiatives and policies.

Pinker advocated for the disempowerment of DEI as one of his five steps to save Harvard, urging administrators to “stanch the flood of DEI officials, expose their policies to the light of day, and repeal the ones that cannot be publicly justified.”

“Harvard is now the place where using the wrong pronoun is a hanging offense but calling for another Holocaust depends on context,” Pinker added, referring to then-Harvard President Claudine Gay’s refusal during her congressional testimony to decry calls for the genocide of Jews as a violation of the school’s policy.

Another Harvard professor critical of the administrators is Flier, who in a Dec. 23 op-ed accused the DEI bureaucracy of amplifying cancel culture and creating highly politicized speech codes that are “inconsistent with free expression.”

Members of the Harvard community, he added, have often “shouted down, disinvited, shamed, and punished” individuals whose viewpoints diverged from the liberal mainstream, while administrators looked the other way.

According to Flier, Harvard has a double standard when it comes to free speech, as well as a litany of “inadequately interrogated” policies that are “detrimental to the mission of universities to discover and disseminate truth.”

Tim Rosenberger, a legal fellow at the Manhattan Institute, told The College Fix that Harvard needs “a massive personal change at the corporation, starting with the resignation of Chair Pritzker.”

He further suggested that parents should encourage their children to consider other schools, and employers should quit placing a premium on Harvard degrees, thus preventing the school from coasting on its past achievements.

While describing President Gay’s resignation as a necessary step, Rosenberger noted that “it isn’t clear that any of the right lessons were learned—namely that Harvard needs to refocus on excellence and achievement.”

MORE: Harvard Corporation members should resign in wake of Gay fiasco, watchdogs say

IMAGE: Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock

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About the Author
Matthew Xiao -- Cornell University