FIRE Co-founder Announces Candidacy for Harvard Board of Overseers
December 12, 2008
We are excited to announce that Harvey Silverglate, FIRE Co-founder and Chairman of FIRE's Board of Directors, has decided to run for a position on Harvard's Board of Overseers. His statement in support of his candidacy is posted on his website, www.HarveySilverglate.com, and it is reposted in full below.
Harvey A. Silverglate, L'1967
I have been a close observer of, and often a participant in, the life of Harvard University since graduating from the Law School in 1967. A resident of the Harvard Square area in Cambridge, I find myself on the campus often. I am a long-time affiliate-in-law of Dunster House at the College (appointed by then Dean of the Law School and co-master of Dunster, James Vorenberg), where I normally do a "law table" each semester. I took a sabbatical from my law practice in the mid-1980s to teach a course at the Law School and also to perform my duties as then-president of the Board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. I have lectured many times at the college and the Law School, as well as the School of Education. I have judged Ames Moot Court sessions at the Law School and given numerous talks to student groups there. I have represented countless undergraduates and law students over the years before the respective administrative boards. I may be the only lawyer to have been allowed to argue a student disciplinary case, pro bono, before the entire faculty of the Law School, in a sort of en banc appeal that resulted in the Faculty's reversal of an Administrative Board finding of guilt. And my then-law partners and I represented the nearly 200 student anti-war protestors charged with criminal trespass when they occupied University Hall in the early 1970s.
And so I have a long history of interest in, affection for, and service to Harvard and its students and also faculty.
But in the past two-and-a-half decades, I've become quite concerned with some of the directions in which the university and its constituent schools have been moving.
Administrative Board: The administrative board - particularly at the College, but also at the professional schools - has become one of the worst, if not the worst, student disciplinary tribunal in the country. The unfairness of its procedures, the highly politicized views and resulting biases of its members, the refusal to search for, or even to consider the impact of, facts and evidence - all take my breath away. Students' complaints, including those of the Undergraduate Council and The Harvard Crimson, fall on deaf ears. Serious reform is needed, and clearly the task requires new thinking and input.
Censorship, free speech, and academic freedom: Since the mid-1980s, Harvard has impinged on free speech - on the expression of important (even if often unpleasant and unwelcome) ideas under the guise of implementing "harassment codes." These codes aim to prevent, or redress, in the words of the College's code, "derogatory remarks" or "stereotypes" that might be found racially offensive. The College's student handbook sets forth a faculty policy statement on harassment that prohibits, "verbal comments or suggestions" that might "adversely affect the working or learning environment of an individual." These extraordinarily vague and broad restrictions of speech make it risky for a student to discuss many issues in the arenas of gender, race, sexual orientation and the like, for they have been interpreted to apply to speech that might simply disturb a student.
Federal "harassment" regulations have thus become a convenient tool - actually, a cover - for the university to censor student speech in ways that would be unconstitutional were Harvard a public university to which the First Amendment applies. Remarkably, even student-authored parodies have been declared off-limits. The tyranny of these speech codes has materially curtailed the free-wheeling discussion, even disputation, of important academic and cultural issues that should be freer on a campus of higher education than anywhere else in our society. Instead, one may say things in Harvard Square that one may not say in Harvard Yard. This sad state of affairs simply must end.
"Corporatization" of the university: I also have followed with considerable concern what, for lack of a better term, I call the "corporatization" of the American university, including (and in some ways, especially) Harvard. The number of glossy in-house publications has proliferated, with alumni receiving too rosy - and one-sided - a picture of campus life and doings. One stark example comes to mind: Until recently, members of the Harvard Law School Association received, as part of the benefits of their paying dues, a free subscription to the long-standing, independently-published, student-edited Harvard Law Record. But a few years ago, the HLSA suddenly replaced the Record with the polished (and invariably effusive and complimentary) in-house magazine, Harvard Law School Bulletin, a product of the Law School administration's message-and-image-creating apparatus. Alumni now receive a public relations and "development" pitch rather than the more revealing student-published periodical. (I am not saying that fund-raising is not important. I'm merely saying that it is not everything.) The switch tells much about the new ethos within the university. And in the current economic downturn, I fear that the faculty will be penalized at the expense of the rapidly growing administrative apparatus. I fear, in other words, that Harvard will trim teachers before administrators. In these and other ways, Harvard risks appearing, even becoming, more of a business than the world-class educational institution that it long has been. This is an unhealthy trend that requires vigilance by people who love the university but will not hesitate to note when something is awry.
I have fought these unhealthy trends in American university life in general, and at Harvard in particular. I have, in my role as lawyer, represented many students accused of wrong-doing and tried before the university's various administrative boards. I have criticized these boards privately and publicly. I co-authored a 1998 book (still in print) on the subject, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses (The Free Press, 1998; paperback from HarperPerennial, 1999). I have co-founded, and am currently Chairman of, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (www.TheFIRE.org), a non-profit organization that seeks to change campus culture - a culture that allows unfair procedures, as well as rank censorship, to reign on campuses all around the country. It is, however, particularly difficult to change the culture on a campus like Harvard, where so much takes place behind closed doors and pursuant to rules that make a student's disclosure of even his or her own disciplinary proceedings a separate violation.
And so I have decided to try to achieve reform at Harvard from the inside. Ever a loyal alumnus (although I often find myself in the role of what might be deemed "the loyal opposition"), vitally interested in the direction of the college and the university, I have undertaken to run for the Board of Overseers in order to encourage the serious discussion, from within, of Harvard's problems. I am hopeful that a sufficient number of Harvard's loyal and interested alumni will see fit to give me that opportunity. If I, or someone very much like me, is not on the Board of Overseers, I think that an entire point-of-view will be utterly missing from important governance deliberations.
Harvey A. Silverglate L'67www.HarveySilverglate.com
Harvard alums who would like to sign Harvey's nominating petition may contact his research assistant, Kyle Smeallie, at email@example.com.