Tag Archives: pledge

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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Harvard Won’t Stop Pushing ‘Community Values’

After pushing freshmen
to “pledge” to official Harvard values last
year, this year the college is training students that there is One Right
Ethical Way to Live Here at Harvard. 
“We did not have
[freshmen] sign pledges,” Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman told 
The
Harvard Crimson
 for a Sept. 7 article, “but we pushed
every bit as hard on how important it was to consider their growth on all
fronts.” Dingman described as having “potential for insensitivity”
situations, such as a wealthy roommate purchasing a large TV that other
roommates cannot afford to chip in for. 
So, Harvard College
thinks it must protect freshmen from the hurt feelings of having a wealthy
roommate. There’s a cruel world ahead, but at least Harvard can be their mom for four
more years.

Every academic
community lives by moral values. In the United States, these values often
include proscriptions against plagiarismfalsifying datacheating on exams, and revealing private information.
Harvard still has trouble with each of these values sometimes.

Although everything
should be up for debate at a university, academic morals are rarely (yet occasionally) up for debate
in the United States because few people argue that such practices are morally
acceptable. 
But many universities
go much farther and apply great pressure upon students to adopt specific
positions on much more controversial values. Even such oft-lauded ideals as
“tolerance” and “diversity” should be open to serious debate and not pushed as
official university values. 
Yet, the Crimson adds:
“Proctors [RAs] were provided with a list of goals for their
students, including honoring diversity, recognizing the value of honesty, and
being aware of unhealthy competition.”

Dingman still doesn’t
quite get it. Last year when Harvard pushed students to pledge to particular non-academic
moral values, such as the idea that kindness was “on a par” with intellectual
attainment, 
it was the opposite of respecting freedom of conscience. This year, it’s still
backwards. It’s antithetical to the values of a great university to tell freshmen on the first day that they don’t need to study moral reasoning since Harvard College already knows what is right and
will show the way to goodness. I
t’s backwards to
teach freshmen an official line on morality rather than to help them inquire about what is just. It’s 
also mistaken to put proctors in the position of teaching justice, moral reasoning,
sociology, cultural analysis, and the other subjects that students can learn
with much greater sophistication and open-ended investigation from world-class
teachers and researchers.

“Student life”
professionals might feel good that they are important than
professors because professors fail to teach and preach virtue. But
this desire to preach merely proves how far from the professoriate these
professionals are. Too many residence life folks think their job is to
inculcate specific virtues, but professors — the good ones, at least — present evidence in ways that permit students to think for themselves and draw
their own conclusions. That’s a far cry from the new policy of imposing
Harvard’s own values of “diversity” and “tolerance” on
students.

_________________________________________

Adam Kissel is a 1994
graduate of Harvard College.

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.

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