Tag Archives: Harvey Silverglate

Harvard Allows a (sort of) Single-Sex Organization

Harvard, which announced severe penalties on members of single-sex student groups in May, may have almost lived up to the ban in principle for as much as a couple of days. The Harvard Crimson revealed on August 15 that the College had assured the all-female Seneca organization in May that it could “continue to operate as it always has” if it simply removed gender requirements from its charter and bylaws without necessarily admitting any males. So the Seneca can remain all female. No such exemption from the rules was granted to all-male groups.

Cambridge attorney Harvey A. Silverglate, a longtime critic of the Harvard administration and a reliable foe of hypocrisy and dishonesty in campus procedures, said he has been “retained to consult” with at least one group opposing the sanctions. He called the Seneca’s agreement “a very convenient carve-out” and “a bit of realpolitik” aimed at pacifying women’s groups, who have been among the most vocal opponents of the administration’s policy. Others argued that the Seneca exemption will allow the group to be both a single-sex and non-single-sex organization at the same time.

The Seneca will continue to invite only women to their first recruitment event of the semester, but men will be allowed to attend the event without an invitation and participate in the subsequent parts of the selection process should they wish, said undergraduate co-president president Avni Nahar ’17 in an interview with the Crimson.

Starting with Harvard’s Class of 2021, undergraduate members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations will be banned from holding athletic team captaincies and leadership positions in all recognized student groups. They will also be ineligible for College endorsement for top fellowships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

A Champion of Free Speech Takes on the Muzzled Campus

Harvey Silverglate delivered these remarks upon receiving the Manhattan Institute’s Alexander Hamilton award Monday, May 9th at a dinner in New York City. Silverglate is a Cambridge attorney, a veteran defender of civil rights and civil liberties, and co-founder, along with University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).


I have dedicated much of my career to two contests that are consuming our nation, the ramifications of which will impact generations to come as well as the health of the republic itself.

I am referring to, first, the capacity of the criminal law, especially federal law, to turn all of us into criminals, at the government’s whim, for engaging in what to us appear to be the most benign personal and professional actions or inactions.

And, second, the effort, well underway, to destroy the liberal arts university by replacing the quest for human knowledge with the indoctrination of students into truth as it is postulated by self-righteous fanatics who think they have a monopoly on human wisdom, when in fact all they really have monopolized are the levers of academic and administrative power.Harvey Silverglate

And, with respect to these two areas – due process and fairness in the criminal law, and free speech and thought and procedural fairness on college campuses – I have long taken comfort in the reliability of allies such as the Manhattan Institute. This is the reason that, despite my reputation for accepting rather few invitations, I gratefully accepted the Manhattan Institute’s invitation to venture to New York (where, by the way, I was born, so this is not foreign territory to me) to accept, along with my co-recipient the redoubtable Bruce Kovner, the Institute’s Alexander Hamilton Award.

Thank you, Manhattan Institute, and the Institute’s leadership – President Larry Mone in particular, and the entire Board – for this honor, but, even more important, for the Institute’s ceaseless support for civilization and sanity in my two areas of interest, the criminal law and our institutions of higher education.

Interestingly, I noticed that dangerous trends in each of these two areas accelerated around the same time –the mid-1980s. Might the explanation, I asked myself, be that suddenly the universities were accepting a more diverse student body? Rather than celebrate this liberalization of American society and academic culture, I wondered, perhaps the colleges, fearing that students of different racial, religious, and social backgrounds would clash with one another, expanded the student-life bureaucracies to, in their view, keep the peace.

Regardless of the justification, definitions of “harassment” were adopted that were so vague and broad so as to escalate the numbers of disciplinary proceedings, many of which were deemed confidential so that the outside world had no idea what was happening. Speech codes popped up that sought to prevent students from insulting or offending one another, but in practice the codes strangled the academic enterprise. Kangaroo courts were established to adjudicate the many violations of the new rules. Remember that we’re talking about liberal arts colleges, not prisons, not re-education camps!

At about the same time, I noted a proliferation of prosecutions in the federal courts that were ensnaring defendants who, it seemed to me, had conducted themselves, if not superbly, then at least within legal limits. This ensnaring was enabled by the greatly expanded use of inherently vague federal statutes, such as “fraud.” The concept of “fraud” suddenly meant whatever a United States Attorney wanted it to mean, with the target often being selected for the personal aggrandizement of the prosecutor’s reputation and future career prospects rather than for the protection of the public.

The bottom line was that I saw these major institutions – the college campuses and the federal courts – take a turn toward precepts and practices that furnished a nutrient-laden petri dish for an experiment in an authoritarianism that was very different from the America I was familiar and comfortable with.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s co-founders, University of Pennsylvania Professor Alan Charles Kors and I, established FIRE in 1999, a year after Professor Kors and I published our book, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. That book followed Professor Kors’ representation, with some legal advice from me, of an undergraduate who was being persecuted in a Penn campus tribunal in the famous “water buffalo” case, where a well-meaning student named Eden Jacobowitz addressed a group of undergraduate women who were raucously celebrating their sorority’s anniversary just outside his dorm window as he was studying. He shouted “shut up, you water buffalo!” The women being African-Americans, this was deemed by them, and by student-life administrators, to constitute “racial harassment.”

It turned out, actually, that in the offending student’s first language, Hebrew, the common slang term behema reasonably translates into “water-buffalo” and refers to a rowdy or thoughtless person. Penn’s administrators, unaware of, and uninterested in, Jacobowitz’s cultural background, assumed that the water buffalo was native to Africa (it’s not), and from this they extrapolated their hate speech theory. In the face of derisive worldwide publicity, the campus bureaucrats backed down, but it turned out to be merely a strategic retreat, not a true surrender.

Sanity’s well-publicized victory in the water buffalo case triggered a flood of students seeking assistance from Professor Kors and me. These beleaguered individuals were suffering not only from unfair persecutions, but also were being cheated out of a genuine liberal arts education. The liberal arts are not readily compatible with censorship and mindless ideological persecution. It is impossible to teach, and to learn, in the liberal arts arena under such conditions of hypersensitivity and authoritarianism. Indoctrination was replacing true academic study. From the day students arrive as freshman they are subjected to “sensitivity training” engineered by burgeoning student life bureaucrats who intrude into their most intimate lives and thoughts. I recognized that students, and even dissenting faculty, were at the mercy of a new regime, something of a cross between Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Kafka’s The Trial.

Kors and I could not handle the volume, and so FIRE was born out of sheer necessity. I at the time had assumed that surely the ludicrousness of the campus persecutions would result in the phenomenon burning itself out within less than ten years. It was, I told myself, a momentary social panic. FIRE would be a temporary project. The burning of witches in Salem, after all, ended rather abruptly when the Supreme Court of Massachusetts decided that enough was enough and put an end to the trials in 1693. That scourge lasted but one year.

Well, FIRE is in its 17th year, with no end in sight. We are in trench warfare.

The success of The Shadow University triggered my next project.

I wrote a book about the decline of justice in the federal criminal system, which I titled Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. As you might intuit by the title, my thesis is, essentially, that the average American arguably commits three federal felonies in a typical day, but does not even realize it. All that is needed is an ambitious federal prosecutor, and a prosecution is born. One has to pray that his case is assigned to a judge who sees through the scam. Most do not. Like campus administrators, too many judges tend to be either cynics or true believers.

And, contrary to the way book projects are traditionally carried out, I went to sell the completed book to a publisher – no book proposal, but, rather, a full manuscript. The publisher of The Shadow University was unwilling to take on the project, perhaps, I wondered, for fear of the U.S. Department of Justice? Other publishers I contacted likewise turned me away.

Enter my dear friend Dorothy Rabinowitz, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who suggested that I send the manuscript to her friend Roger Kimball, the brilliant publisher at Encounter Books (who I see in the audience this evening, and who is on the Board of the Manhattan Institute).

Roger, who had seen some of his own friends get ensnared in the traps for the unwary strewn throughout the ocean of vague federal statutes and regulations, agreed to publish the book. Three Felonies’ has become somewhat of a handbook for the counter-revolution against tyranny. The book’s influence has been such that I recently acceded to Roger’s plea that I write a sequel that would focus on the proposed solutions. I’m nearly half done with the manuscript, and Conviction Machine is due out sometime next year.

In these two theaters of battle in which I find myself, reliable allies are highly valued. This is why the Manhattan Institute is so important: It recognizes the stakes, in terms of liberty and of civilization itself, in both the criminal justice arena and the education arena. I am proud, and buoyed, to have allies like MI. I know that FIRE likewise is grateful to have such a reliable cohort in the fight for restoration of liberty, fairness, and sanity on college campuses.

Together, and with all of the other groups across the political spectrum that see the reality of what is happening and are determined to do something about it, we will prevail.

Harvard Botches a ‘Cheating’ Scandal

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By
Harvey Silverglate and Zachary Bloom

At first blush, the ongoing cheating scandal at Harvard
College appears to raise serious questions about academic integrity at that
fabled institution. If the allegations that 125 students inappropriately shared
notes and answers for a take-home exam in violation of the exam’s rules prove
true, the result will be a massive blot on Harvard’s near-perfectly manicured
public  image–especially now that top 
athletes have been implicated.

But let’s remember that because of the course’s confusing rules and guidelines concerning collaboration, no one, likely not even the
students themselves, can say right now whether their conduct was illicit. Worse
yet, we may
never know the truth, much less have a just verdict on the
propriety of the students’ actions, now that the case is securely in the hands
of the spooks haunting Harvard’s notorious Administrative Board.

Continue reading Harvard Botches a ‘Cheating’ Scandal

Harvard, Where Civility Trumps Free Speech

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Harvard’s Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman has managed to circumvent the brouhaha he created last year with his “kindness pledge.” To recap: In the fall of 2011 Dean Dingman drew the wrath of former Dean of Harvard College Harry Lewis, as well as the mockery and criticism of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE) and the media, when he pressured incoming students to sign a pledge to “act with integrity, respect, and industry, and…civility” and to believe that “the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” Dingman posted the pledge with signatures affixed near dormitory entrances where all could see who had surrendered to this strange attack on freedom of conscience and who had not. Dean Dingman eventually caved under the pressure and agreed to take down the signature lists, although not the text of the pledge itself.

We now know that Dean Dingman’s retreat was merely a tactical one. He was not persuaded by his critics’ arguments against pressuring college students to publicly display their personal and ideological opinions, especially when the pressure was to announce belief in the Dean’s own personal views. Dingman must be unfamiliar with the sordid centuries-long history of authoritarian figures requiring the less powerful to mouth officially-approved views. And so this year, without any public pre-announcement (which doomed last year’s thought-reform efforts because it gave opponents time to mount an attack),Dean Dingman managed to slip a stealth re-education program into Harvard’s freshman orientation week. It was essentially the same stuff recycled in a format where he did not have to get the students to actually sign, and so where there was no clear forum or trigger for dissent.

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Brandeis: Still Abusing A Professor

By William Creeley & Harvey Silverglate
Reaction to Brandeis University’s plan to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its esteemed collection was swift—and scathing. Within the Brandeis community, President Jehuda Reinharz’s proposed fire sale provoked howls of betrayal from students, faculty, alumni, and donors. In the art world and news media, the move was met with blistering condemnation. Even the Massachusetts attorney general’s office launched an investigation.
The press reported that Michael Rush, the Rose’s director, expressed “shame and deep regret” at the university’s plan. (Adding insult to injury, Rush was notified of Reinharz’s plan just an hour before the press release was issued.) In Rush’s assessment, by shuttering the Rose, Brandeis would place its “intellectual capital and very credibility as an institution of higher learning on the auction block.” That the museum director was not involved in such a momentous decision is perhaps as revealing and important as the decision itself.
A strict adherent to the corporate model of university governance, Reinharz responded to the furor with an empty apology, expertly crafted by a public relations firm to sound palatable while leaving the decision largely intact. But the backlash against Reinharz’s announcement stems not only from its wrong-headedness, but also from the arrogance and lack of process with which the decision was made.

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Let’s Cut The Administrative Fat

After years of fat, our colleges and universities are now facing decisions imposed by the coming years of lean. Will the academy pull back from the spending binge of recent decades by cutting away administrative fat, or by chipping away at academic bone? Will it be administrations or faculties that get downsized? The answer will speak volumes as to whether today’s universities are more interested in educating their students, or in reforming their thinking and their conduct.
Whether the enormous growth of the administrative infrastructure has been due to the sudden influx of extraordinarily generous contributions buttressed by ahistorically large portfolio investment returns, or instead to the need to hire foot-soldiers to implement the politically correct ideological programs necessary to create the modern in loco parentis university, is anyone’s “chicken-before-the-egg” guess. But the bottom line is that since the mid-1980’s, burgeoning academic and student life bureaucracies – and the “needed” money to pay for them – changed the face, and much of the mission, of the modern (or should one say post-modern?) university.
This observer, relying more on observation and hunch than outright cynicism, is willing to bet that the teaching side of the academy will suffer more than the in loco parentis administrative side. Assistant vice-deans of student life specializing in sensitivity training will likely outlast the professor of European history or the instructor in Chinese, Arabic, or other critical languages.

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Can We Change The Campus Culture?

People ask me when I got my first inkling that something was seriously wrong with the culture of our campuses of higher education. It was in the mid-1980s, and it had nothing to do — yet — with the post-modern corruption of the liberal arts, which was then beyond my professional interests and experiences. It had to do with free speech and due process.
I became a lawyer, after all, not an academic when I got my LL.B. in 1967. As a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer from the start of my legal career, I represented students in trouble with their colleges and universities. It was very soon after my graduation that I had my first big academic case – my law partners and I represented the undergraduates who had taken over University Hall and were unceremoniously dragged out by the baton-wielding municipal and state police. The students were all cited, in the Middlesex County (Massachusetts) Superior Criminal Court, with trespass on the property of The President and Fellows of Harvard College. (Even though they paid tuition for the privilege of being on Harvard property, they had refused an explicit order, delivered over a bullhorn, to vacate that particular administrative building where they had, much like squatters, taken up residence.)
Over a hundred students were charged. The mob was randomly broken up into three groups and scheduled for consecutive jury trials. When the jury acquitted all of the defendants put on trial in the first case (the jurors were apparently unpersuaded that all of the students were in fact building occupiers rather than observers in the wrong place at the wrong time), the district attorney (and Harvard) relented and allowed the others to avoid trial, and a criminal record, via a benign plea agreement.

Continue reading Can We Change The Campus Culture?