Tag Archives: Harvey Silvergate

After Awful Tragedies,
The Campus Bureaucracy Expands

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The Boston Herald is a scrappy, politically conservative
tabloid that normally rants and rails against excessive regulations and good-for-nothing
government bureaucrats. Yet in an editorial on the Penn State child
molestations, titled “Keeping campuses safe,” the Herald called for a heavily expanded
bureaucratic response. It excoriated “the football program staff” of Penn State
who, quoting assertions in the Freeh Report, “had not been
trained in their Clery Act responsibilities and most had never heard of the
Clery Act,” a 1990 federal statute requiring colleges and universities to
report crimes that happen on or near their campuses. It is named for Jeanne
Clery, a Lehigh University freshman raped and murdered in her dorm in 1986.

Statutes named after victims of rare but spectacularly awful crimes are
especially likely to be overkill laws that cause unnecessary added bureaucracy and
dismal unforeseen consequences. Yet here was the Herald, which knows better, on the side of more regulation
when it came to universities. The army of advocates for increased
administration in higher education’s already bloated bureaucracies has landed
on the Penn State scandal with considerable gusto. Self-interest motivates many
of those who argue for more regulations and increased numbers of administrators
at Penn State, including the increased use of professionals who provide
“training” for campus student life administrators. 

Continue reading After Awful Tragedies,
The Campus Bureaucracy Expands

Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Elizabeth Warren.jpgSeemingly lily-white Elizabeth Warren’s supposed claim of Cherokee heritage may make for good campaign fodder–incumbent Senator Scott Brown has gone so far as to demand that Warren apologize for allowing Harvard to claim her as a minority–but the real lesson in this latest of partisan battles has more to do with university rather than electoral politics.

For those who have been living in a bubble, let’s rehash: On April 27th, the Boston Herald reported that Elizabeth Warren “was once touted by embattled Harvard Law School officials…as proof of their faculty’s diversity” in 1996; indeed, according to the Herald, Warren was considered the only minority woman on the Law School faculty at the time (a statistic of great interest, it seems, to those who count such things). Following the report, the Warren campaign has been on the defensive as opponent Brown, along with many members of the media, have been questioning (or simply making fun of) Warren’s seemingly cynical careerist use of her Native American heritage. Over the next few weeks, we will doubtless continue to hear details about Warren’s family, and about whether or not she used her lineage in a suspect way.

Continue reading Harvard’s PR Machine and the Cherokees

Uh-oh, Students Are Starting to Talk Like Administrators

This is an excerpt from the Q&A following talks March 28 by KC Johnson and Harvey Silverglate on campus “Kangaroo Courts” that fit no concept of the fairness or justice valued in the rest of America. Here Harvey Silverglate expresses concern that students are beginning to imbibe “the utter, arrant nonsense” of their campus prosecutors.

QUESTION: For Harvey Silverglate: What about the mental impact on students that go through these oppressive and regressive institutions that American universities have unfortunately become? There is clearly a totalitarian mindset among these administrators. What do you think is the impact on these students? Do they come out as conformists or as rebels? And what does it mean for the political future of the United States as a constitutional democracy?

Continue reading Uh-oh, Students Are Starting to Talk Like Administrators

Misconduct Hearings on Campus Are Rotten and Have to Change

This is the text of a speech given March 28, 2012 at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in New York City.

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silverglate.jpgI began representing students in 1969. A group of Harvard students took over University Hall in an anti-Vietnam War protest. There was a lot of violence, President Pusey called in the police, and 220 students were charged with trespass on the property of the President and Fellows of Harvard College. My law partners and I took the case, and they tried them in groups of 20 students at a time. Much to the consternation of the President and Fellows, and the district attorney of Middlesex County, the jury said not guilty to the first group. So they gave up the rest of the cases. They figured if the jury wouldn’t convict the first 20, they’re not going to convict the rest.

And that got me interested in this whole area. And two years later,
in 1971, I had my first student disciplinary case in front of the now
feared Harvard Administrative Board. That’s the disciplinary body. And
it was a rather interesting case, and I want you to see where I’m
coming from, what I experienced at the beginning of my career. And then
I’ll tell you a little bit about the last 20 years.

Continue reading Misconduct Hearings on Campus Are Rotten and Have to Change

‘Feelings’ as the Measure of Student Misconduct

Two of our best writers here at Minding the Campus, KC Johnson and Harvey Silverglate, spoke quite brilliantly at a Manhattan Institute luncheon last Wednesday on “Kangaroo Courts: Yale, Duke and Student Rights.” It is, in our opinion, the best possible short course for understanding the star-chamber proceedings that students face these days at campuses great and small. Duke, we should say, mostly got a pass. Outrages at Harvard and Yale were center-stage.

Continue reading ‘Feelings’ as the Measure of Student Misconduct

Students’ Sexuality is Their Own Business

According to various reports, UCLA may ask incoming students about their sexual orientation. Such a development would make it the second school in the nation to do so–Elmhurst College in Illinois became the first last fall. The disclosure would be voluntary, and would have no bearing on admissions. As Matt Comer, a spokesperson for the LGBT organization Campus Pride told Fox News, “It’s much like asking race or gender.”

Continue reading Students’ Sexuality is Their Own Business

The Amazing, Shrinking Academic Year

When I read this article in today’s Harvard Crimson, asking for a shorter school year, I couldn’t figure out if it was a parody. At first I laughed, but then it occurred to me that the Crimson editorialists are likely serious.

I would love to see a comparison done of the length of the academic
year for each decade starting in the 1960s and running to the present.
If memory serves, the academic year took a major reduction during the
“oil crisis” during the woeful administration of President Jimmy Carter;
the winter break was extended supposedly in order to conserve fuel
during the coldest months of the year. Then oil came back into plentiful
supply, but the school year has continued to shrink. And, of course,
the professoriate has likewise enjoyed a much shorter teaching year, as
students have come to enjoy a much shorter learning year. And we are all
familiar with how difficult it is to find an administrator on campus
the day or two before one of these incessant “breaks.”

Continue reading The Amazing, Shrinking Academic Year

Will Harvard Stop Trying to Impose Orthodoxies?

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Although our beleaguered universities continue their seemingly inexorable march from being institutions of higher education to resembling, more and more, political and social re-education camps for the young, every now and then the students demonstrate that they remain well ahead of campus administrations and faculties when it comes to appreciating the true role of our colleges and universities:  It appears that our universities’ efforts at attitudinal indoctrination have not been wholly successful.

We see the latest example at Harvard in an editorial in the college newspaper The Harvard Crimson. Headlined “A University, Not A Think Tank: Harvard should not issue a formal position on inequality” (The Harvard Crimson, December 14, 2011), the undergraduate journalists take their professors to task for continuing on the perilous journey of politicizing the institution by seeking to have the school, in the editorial’s words, “use its position to make a statement against social inequalities.”

The statement, triggered by the ubiquitous “Occupy” movement that recently swept the nation as well as many college campuses, was proposed at the December faculty meeting by Professor Susan Suleiman, acting chair of the Department of Romance Language and Literatures. While the student editorialists agreed with Professor Suleiman “that social inequality is an important issue to address in today’s society,” they warned against turning a university into a “think tank” by officially espousing political and social positions.

The Crimson editorial argues that Harvard’s primary responsibility is “to promote free discourse,” and that the university’s taking a formal and official position on “contemporary political issues…such as inequality” would inevitably move it in the direction of, for example, “endors[ing] a presidential candidate, or impos[ing] a political litmus test for faculty.”

In fact, this would hardly be the first time that the student journalists had to lecture their teachers on the contours of intellectual freedom and of the dangers in crossing the line from education to indoctrination. Whether defending a student’s right to parody seemingly incompetent administrators at the Business School, or castigating the attempted imposition of a racial speech code at the law school, the student editors of the Crimson have for the most part eloquently defended intellectual freedom against those who would constrain it.

But the push against open discourse and intellectual vibrancy at the university has been strong over the last two decades, as university administrators and faculty have made a veritable tradition of betraying these seemingly sacrosanct principles. In 2006 the faculty managed to drive out the university president, Lawrence Summers, for suggesting the existence of scientific evidence of women scientists’ gender-based overall predisposition not to perform at the highest levels, in contrast to their male counterparts. In 2009, the Dean of the Law School publicly embarrassed and castigated a student for a controversial private e-mail expressing the student’s interest in seeing more scientific research results on the hot-button issue of race and intelligence. And at the beginning of the last semester, the Harvard College Dean of Freshmen sought to impose on all new arrivals a “Freshman Pledge.” As explained in this space this past September, it was only because of considerable push-back that the dean retreated from his insistence that the oath be posted at every freshman dorm entryway with a signature line for every student, so that everyone would see which students were, and which were not, prepared to publicly declare their fealty to the notion that “the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment,” thereby “upholding the values of the College” that include “inclusiveness and civility.” (For a longer discussion of Harvard’s new tradition of betraying free speech, see this piece by Daniel R. Schwartz.)

And so even though the Dean of Freshmen failed (for the current year only – he vowed to return to the issue at the start of fall semester later this year) to stampede first-year students into pledging to kindness and inclusiveness as essential and mandated values rather than mere personal preferences, the acting chair of a major department tried to pledge the entire institution into solidarity with a social and political movement.

And unfortunately, we cannot be overly confident that the Crimson will maintain its longstanding policy as a bulwark against administrative and faculty overreach. In the last year alone, Harvard’s highly regarded student newspaper (“The University Daily Since 1873,” blares the masthead proudly) has failed twice to defend freedom of conscience at Harvard. In response to the pledge controversy, rather than support former Dean Harry Lewis’s unmitigated position against the pledge, the Crimson editorial board called for the imposition of amoral code. The code would, said the editors, represent “an explicit affirmation of the moral value set that should guide the Harvard community;” such “codification of morality” being necessary to “truly bring integrity, respect, compassion, and kindness on par with success.”

And two days earlier, the student editors reminded the faculty of the proper academic and intellectual mission of the liberal arts university, the same editorial page supported the December 6th vote of the Harvard College faculty to exclude from the Harvard Summer School catalogue two economics courses taught by Indian economist Subramanian Swamy. The reasons for Swamy’s effective expulsion from the faculty was his authorship of an editorial–for a newspaper in his native India–urging the Indian government to take drastic steps in response to Muslim extremism. This action by the faculty was taken at the behest of Comparative Religion Professor Diana L. Eck, who strained laughably to characterize Swamy’s newspaper column as something more sinister and dangerous than mere speech. This time the Crimson editorialists bit: “Swamy’s op-ed clearly constitutes hate speech, by even the most lenient definition,” they wrote. “As a matter of principle, there is no place for hate speech in the Harvard community.” While a clear misreading of the article–Swamy’s piece may seem radical, but calling it hate-speech is quite a stretch, and calling it incitement absurd–what neither Professor Eck and her faculty colleagues, nor the student editorialists understood, of course, was that in the society outside of the ivy gates, “hate speech” is accorded vigorous constitutional protection.

As the Crimson editorial’s warning to the university not to go overboard in adopting formal institutional positions on such political issues and economic inequality demonstrates, the students are still ahead of their teachers when it comes to preserving the academy’s unique devotion to freedom of thought and speech, and to intellectual pluralism. However, as the Swamy and pledge editorials equally show, even student editors are not completely immune from the increasingly dangerous politicization of the academy that threatens academic freedom and, indeed, the whole concept of a liberal arts education. The danger, of course, is that within another generation, the constant pressure from faculty and administration to water down the liberal arts university’s traditional mission will have converted the students into unquestioning followers of their politicized elders.

Harvard Pressures Freshmen to Sign a Moral Pledge

Taking a pledge.jpgHarvard College’s Class of 2015 found something unprecedented awaiting their arrival on campus: an ideological pledge. It was framed as a request for allegiance to certain social and political principles. No such request had been made of Harvard students since the college’s founding by Puritans in 1636.

First-years are being pressured to sign a “Freshman Pledge” committing them to create a campus “where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment” — all in the name of “upholding the values of the College” including “inclusiveness and civility.”

The request – originating from the Dean of Freshmen, in consultation with the secretary of Harvard’s feared disciplinary tribunal, its Administrative Board, and communicated via dormitory tutors who are the students’ main liaison with the administration – asked that students commencing their four-year journey of intellectual and spiritual awakening take a position on social and political issues that are much debated in our contentious times. “Inclusiveness” and “civility” have become, for better or worse, buzz words among those who argue over the extent to which harsh rhetoric should be avoided in the name of providing students protection from the hurt feelings that often result from vigorous arguments.

Continue reading Harvard Pressures Freshmen to Sign a Moral Pledge

What Yale’s President Should Have Said about the Frat Boys

By Harvey Silverglate and Kyle Smeallie

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The Department of Education is currently investigating Yale University for allegedly maintaining a sexually hostile environment. No one can deny that the New Haven Ivy is in a difficult position. To wit, Yale enacted changes last month to lower the standard of proof in sexual assault cases, and last week, College Dean Mary Miller announced that a fraternity would be banned for five years, a result of an October 2010 incident in which pledges shouted sexually-graphic chants. Yale, by all appearances, is capitulating to federal pressure. It didn’t have to. Here’s how Yale President Richard Levin could have stood tall, on behalf of educators and liberal arts institutions everywhere, in the face of Washington’s unwelcome–and ultimately destructive intrusion.

Dear Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali:

Allow me to introduce myself. I am Richard Levin, President of Yale University. I’ve been at the helm of this great institution since 1993, making me currently the longest-tenured president in the Ivy League. As a long-time observer of higher education, and one who has praised its historical autonomy from the public sector, I feel an obligation to express my concern about recent developments from your office.

I’m writing today in response to a Title IX civil rights complaint for gender discrimination that your office has filed against my university, as well as a “Dear Colleague” letter sent by you last month to nearly every college and university,both of which concern the adjudication of sexual harassment allegations in higher education.

Continue reading What Yale’s President Should Have Said about the Frat Boys

What Characterizes the Modern Totalitarian, Corporatized University?

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In Savannah, Georgia, an ambitious experiment in higher education is under way. Ralston College aims to offer a back-to-basics liberal arts experience , stripped of the amenities and assumptions of the modern university. Though just now getting off the ground–it has yet to accept student applications–its stated mission is clear. Students will experience rigorous coursework year-round and focus on “reading books, thinking about them, and talking about them,” according to the college’s brochure.

Perhaps more noteworthy is what Ralston College intends not to have: armies of administrators micromanaging student life, cloistered academic departments unwelcoming to interdisciplinary studies, and coddled students whose sentiments and comforts, as supposed “customers,” are paramount.

It is too early to tell how this experiment will play out. But its mere existence is rather remarkable. In a country with some 4,400 degree-granting institutions of higher education, a market niche is apparently opening for the classic pursuit of the liberal arts.

Continue reading What Characterizes the Modern Totalitarian, Corporatized University?

Eliminating Free Thoughts in the Name of False Safety

What does it mean to be safe on campus? The word is so often invoked—creating “safe zones” or maintaining a “safe environment”—that it has arguably become meaningless.
Perhaps more accurately, it has taken on a second meaning, specific to the university. Whereas the real-world definition refers essentially to one’s physical well-being, in the campus context “safety” has become synonymous with feeling comfortable, or not hearing challenging words or ideas—threats, simply put, to one’s emotional state and level of comfort.
This disparity transcends linguistics. It speaks to how the modern university prepares—or fails to prepare—students for the real world. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with administrators caring for student comfort in all of its forms. But when that encroaches on basic campus liberties as well as to the academy’s core educational mission, even those sympathetic to a given group’s cause must take a step back. Events over the past two weeks at the University of Rhode Island provide a clear example.

Continue reading Eliminating Free Thoughts in the Name of False Safety

Criminal, Not Hurtful

Our good friend Harvey Silverglate, co-founder of FIRE and co-author of The Shadow University, just sent a brief protest—more like a bellow—in reaction to the New York Times’s handling of the Rutgers story. A front-page Times report today said it was “hurtful” for the two Rutgers students to videotape a gay sex act by another student and put that tape on the Internet. Silverglate is incensed because “hurtful” is PC-speak and doesn’t tell the story—“It’s crime!,” he wrote. “Hurtful is one of those newly-minted words in the academy used mostly by politically correct deans trying to control student life.” We wanted to run his email here, but he offered it to his editors at the Boston Phoenix, where he has been a columnist for 40 years. We will link to it as soon as the Phoenix posts it.
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Update: Here’s the piece.

How Corrupted Language Moved from Campus to the Real World

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In some quarters I’m viewed as a lawyer with a professional identity problem: I’ve spent half of my time representing students and professors struggling with administrators over issues like free speech, academic freedom, due process and fair disciplinary procedures. The other half I’ve spent representing individuals (and on occasion organizations and companies) in the criminal justice system.

These two seemingly disparate halves of my professional life are, in fact, quite closely related: The respective cultures of the college campus and of the federal government have each thrived on the notion that language is meant not to express one’s true thoughts, intentions and expectations, but, instead, to cover them up. As a result, the tyrannies that I began to encounter in the mid-1980s in both academia and the federal criminal courts shared this major characteristic: It was impossible to know when one was transgressing the rules, because the rules were suddenly being expressed in language that no one could understand.

In his 1946 linguistic critique, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote that one must “let meaning choose the word, not the other way around.” By largely ignoring this truism, administrators and legislators who craft imprecise regulations have given their particular enforcement arms—campus disciplinary staff and federal government prosecutors—enormous and grotesquely unfair power.

Continue reading How Corrupted Language Moved from Campus to the Real World

The Cambridge Empire Strikes Back

By Harvey Silverglate With Kyle Smeallie
Harvard University may be losing money like a hard-luck high-roller, but the Vegas tagline (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas) certainly does not apply: what happens at Harvard reaches well beyond the Cambridge confines. For better or for worse, many schools follow in Harvard’s footsteps. What better place, then, to effect change in American higher education than a place where other schools—at least until the recent economic meltdown—have been green with Crimson envy?
Such was the premise behind my insurgent campaign for a seat on the Board of Overseers, one of Harvard’s two governing boards. Dismayed by the lack of principled oversight (a key reason, I suspect, for Harvard’s recent financial woes) and the general illiberal culture of his alma mater, I spent months trying to convince alumni to elect me to the board. In early June, however, Harvard officials informed me that my bid for a six-year term on the 30-member board came up a bit short.
In defeat, I learned the very same lesson that Harvard Law School alum Barack H. Obama (Law School class of 1991) learned when he ran as a petition candidate in the 1991 Overseers election: Input from outsiders—those unwilling to place collegiality over candor—is unwanted.

Continue reading The Cambridge Empire Strikes Back

Be Fair, Harvard

In theory, e-mail should make it easier to organize for social and political change. But, as recent events in my campaign as a petition candidate for Harvard’s Board of Overseers have shown, new means of communication can be used to relegate would-be reformers of the academy to dead-ends, and to keep the outsiders outside. If I might make a rough analogy to the familiar Star Wars trilogy: My initial undertaking of my petition candidacy, along with my fellow petition candidate Robert Freedman, has been followed by the second phase of the trilogy, namely The Empire Strikes Back. Freedman and I are now working to get to the third installment, Return of the Jedi. But I’m getting a bit ahead of the story.
I should not feel like an outsider – much less a barbarian knocking on Harvard’s gates, seeking a place at the table – but I can’t help feeling that I’m being treated like one. After all, I came to Cambridge in 1964, attended my law school classes with due attention (especially given the fact that I had to work full-time to support myself, my mother and younger brother after the sudden death of my father while I was a senior at Princeton), received my LL.B. in 1967, and remained in Cambridge to marry and live and to practice law in Boston. During that time, I became a legal affiliate-in-law at one of Harvard College’s undergraduate houses, where I still give unpaid “pre-law table” discussions once each semester. I’ve judged moot court arguments at Harvard Law School. I taught a course at the law school during a sabbatical-from-practice that I took in the mid-1980s. I’ve lectured to many an undergraduate class. And I continue to advise Harvard students, and even an occasional faculty member, when they get into trouble (with Harvard, as well as with the outside “real world”). Now, I’m running as a petition candidate for Harvard’s Board of Overseers, the university’s second most powerful governing body.
So why do I feel like an outsider?

Continue reading Be Fair, Harvard

A Candidate Worth A Vote

The inestimable Harvey Silverglate has launched a candidacy for Harvard’s Board of Overseers, and quickly, the relevance of his effort is being noted. The student-run Harvard Law Record is scaling back its publication schedule in the face of several difficulties, notable among them being Harvard’s reduction of alumni distribution. As they write:

[T]he replacement of the Record as the school’s official mailout with the glossier, less critical eye of the Harvard Law School Bulletin – an issue pointed to by Harvard Board of Overseers candidate Harvey Silverglate ’67 as a manifestation of the “corporate” university – has reduced dependence on the paper among alumni. Still, we believe that independent, student produced content is a necessary, particularly at an institution that sometimes falls short of embodying the lofty principles it teaches in its classrooms. Demand for the Record has never been higher, it’s just that this demand is not appearing in print form. We are seeing our highest traffic totals ever on the hlrecord.org website.

Silverglate, right again. And take a look at his worthy endorsements, from Steven Pinker to Stuart Taylor Jr.

Attacking Larry Summers Again

On Forbes.com today, Harvey Silverglate responds to a New York Times blogpost by Stanley Fish on Lawrence Summers, who may be president-elect Obama’s choice for secretary of the treasury. (We asked Silverglate to write it for us, but Forbes beat us by half an hour.)

Silverglate did not much like Fish’s article, and we found it insufferable ourselves. Fish argues that senior administrators simply cannot say things that might upset the various constitutencies of their universities. Unlike professors and students, they must make nice all the time. Fish says he takes no position on the issues raised by Summers with criticisms of the work habits of Cornel West and the speculations about the relative rarity of females in the upper ranks of science. Summers’ sin, in Fish’s opinion, was upsetting people and “making the university into the object of an unflattering attention.”

This is quite close to the standard rationale for campus speech codes, which punish speakers for hurting the feelings of any member of a protected group. The offense is the upset. Summers’ remarks to West were in private and his science comment was in a closed meeting that appeared to be off the record. But never mind. Fish doesn’t approve. He recommends tact, patience, poise self-restraint, deference and courtesy. What he definitely does not recommend is a college president who occasionally says what he thinks.