Harvard Faculty 1, Free Speech 0

Subramanian Swamy .jpgThe Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) has done it again. This is the group that effectively drove former Harvard president Lawrence Summers out of office over a 2005 remark of his about possible differences between the sexes that didn’t sit well with hard-line feminists on the Harvard faculty. The FAS voted its “lack of confidence” in Summers’s leadership, and he tendered his resignation in 2006. Last week the FAS maneuvered another forced departure on political grounds. It voted to eliminate two Harvard Summer School courses taught by Subramanian Swamy, a former economics professor at Harvard who now lives in India but who has regularly traveled to Cambridge to teach in the university’s summer school.

The reason? An anti-Muslim op-ed article that Swamy wrote for an
Indian newspaper three days after the July 13 bombings by Muslim
terrorists that killed at least 21 people in Mumbai. Harvard has a set
of guidelines, adopted by the FAS in 1990, that are supposed to protect
the freedom of speech of the university’s students and faculty members.
But the FAS decided that Swamy’s op-ed, which included a call to get rid
of more than 300 Indian mosques, “crosses the line by demonizing an
entire religious community and calling for violence against their sacred
places,” in the words of Harvard Comparative Religion Professor Diana
L. Eck, who proposed the amendment excluding Swamy’s courses at the Dec.
6 FAS meeting.

Under Harvard’s governance system a faculty vote on curriculum offerings
is final and does not require the approval of Harvard’s administration.
Eck’s amendment, carving out an exception to an otherwise routine
approval of the summer school curriculum, and passed by a reportedly
overwhelming faculty vote (FAS meetings are closed to the public),
neatly bypasses Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and other top
Harvard officials who have stood by Swamy up until now. In September a
petition spearheaded by Eck and bearing at least 457 signatures, 68 of
them from Harvard undergraduates, called on Harvard to “repudiate
Swamy’s remarks and terminate his association with the University.” The
university issued a statement declaring that it is “central to the
mission of a university to protect free speech, including that of Dr.
Swamy and of those who disagree with him.” The statement continued: “We
are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment
to the most basic freedoms that enable the robust exchange of ideas.”
Harvard’s economics professors voiced no objection to Swamy’s continued
presence on the faculty of the summer school, where the two courses he
was to teach covered elementary economics and the economics of the
Indian subcontinent. No students had complained about political bias in
Swamy’s classrooms.

An Op-Ed That Would Not Allow All Hindus to Convert

Nonetheless, even the most committed free-speech advocates would likely
find Swamy’s op-ed, published in India’s Daily News and Analysis,
disturbing to say the least. It is a call for India to rename itself “Hindustan.” In Swamy’s blueprint not only would hundreds of
mosques be closed, but non-Hindus would be stripped of their voting
rights unless they acknowledged “that their ancestors were Hindus,” as
Swamy wrote. Those who refused, as well as “those foreigners who become
Indian citizens,” could remain in India, but without the right either to
vote or to hold elective office. Swamy’s op-ed also argued that India
“[e]nact a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any
other religion,” and that non-Hindus who “re-convert” to Hinduism be
required to belong to a Hindu caste.

Swamy’s outrage at Islamic terrorists was understandable. The July 13
bombings had been preceded by another series of Muslim-linked bombings
in Mumbai
in 2008 that had left 173 people dead. Muslims had conquered
and ruled large sections of India beginning in the twelfth century, and
from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century the Muslim Mughul empire
covered most of the subcontinent. The 300 mosques that Swamy slated for
destruction in his op-ed were apparently built on the sites of Hindu
temples destroyed by Muslims during their long reign over India.
Although the overwhelming majority of today’s Indians practice Hinduism,
Muslims have made significant demographic inroads during recent
decades, at Hinduism’s expense. In 1961 about 83 percent of India’s
population was Hindu, compared with 80 percent right now. Islam’s share
of India’s population has grown from 11 percent to more than 13 percent
during the same period, thanks to high birthrates and illegal
immigration from neighboring Bangladesh. India shares a border with
Pakistan, refuge of the slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Although
technically a U.S. ally, Pakistan is currently in peace negotiations
with the terrorist Taliban. With militancy on the rise among the world’s
1.2 billion Muslims, it is not surprising that India’s Hindus fear
becoming the targets of escalating violence in the future. In his op-ed
Swami wrote: “Islamic terrorism is India’s number one problem of
national security.”

Still, the “Hindustan” that Swamy envisioned in his op-ed is essentially
a Hindu mirror image of the Muslim Brotherhood’s blueprint to replace
secular-democratic societies in Muslim countries with an all-Islamic
societies to be governed by the Koran and sharia law. Radical Hindu
nationalism is now a major force in Indian political life. A
Hindu-nationalist political party, Bharatiya Janata, has swiftly grown
to become the second-largest in India. (Swamy is president of a
different party, Janata, from which Bharatiya Janata split off in 1981).
Some Indian states already forbid conversions from Hinduism.
Hindu-nationalist mobs have bashed mosques and killed hundreds of
Muslims. They have also targeted India’s 24 million Christians, since
Hindu nationalists regard Christianity as a foreign colonialist
import–even though some of India’s Christian communities date back to
Christianity’s earliest centuries. There have been murders of Christian
missionaries, burnings of churches and Christian-owned stores, and waves
of anti-Christian violence in 2007 and 2008 that included an attack on
Mother Teresa’s religious order, the Missionaries of Charity. India’s 17
million Sikhs have also been sporadic targets of Hindu-nationalist

Despite Swamy’s strong support for the Hindu-nationalist agenda, his
July 16 op-ed did not endorse attacks against non-Hindus or their places
of worship, Diana Eck’s reference to inciting “violence” at the Harvard
FAS meeting notwithstanding. Nor did Swamy call for future violence
against Muslims by India’s Hindus. His op-ed was instead a call for
radical political changes in India to be brought about by democratic
processes, in which mosque removal would be carried out by the
government. Those contemplated political changes might be controversial
(as they were, even in India) and repugnant to those who believe in
religious freedom, but Swamy had as much right to make them as the
communists who have joined forces with the Occupy movement in America to
advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government. One might hope that
India never turns into “Hindustan,” while refraining from penalizing a
Harvard professor for hoping that it will, in a newspaper opinion piece
published thousands of miles away from his Cambridge classroom in the
aftermath of a series of fatal bombings.

No Censorship of Obnoxious Views

It was for this reason that Faust and other top Harvard administrators
apparently supported Swamy’s right to continue teaching at Harvard after
the initial effort in July to have him removed. They might have been
spurred to steadfastness by a July 27 letter to Faust from Adam Kissel, a
1994 Harvard graduate and vice president of programs at the Foundation
for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Harvard FAS
had written
, “We
assume that the long-term benefits to our community will outweigh the
short-term unpleasant effects of sometimes-noxious views. Because we are
a community united by a commitment to rational processes, we do not
permit censorship of noxious views.”

But that was the Harvard administration, and Harvard’s FAS seems to have
a way, as it did with Lawrence Summers’s presidency in 2005, of having
the last word. There was, as might be expected, an element of
selectivity in the FAS’s righteous indignation. Diana Eck’s remarks
focused entirely on the “demonization” of India’s Muslims, while
pointedly ignoring the consequences for India’s Christians under Swamy’s
blueprint–even though Swamy’s op-ed had included a disparaging
reference to India’s Christian president, Sonia Gandhi, as
“semi-literate.” Muslims are a fashionable victim group in today’s
academia, while Christians are not. Contrast the FAS’s harsh treatment
of Swamy to the reluctance of faculty and administrators at the
University of Colorado-Boulder to take any action against former ethnic
studies professor Ward Churchill for blaming the U.S. for the 9/11
Muslim terrorist massacre, and for calling the thousands of 9/11 victims
who worked at the World Trade Center towers “little Eichmanns.”
Churchill was fired from the university in 2006–but for scholarly
plagiarism (he subsequently sued the university, and his appeal is
pending before the Colorado Supreme Court).

Regarding the Swamy matter, it is tempting to say, “A plague on both
your houses,” and focus sympathy on a more appealing victim of an
ideological witch hunt. But one must remember that Swamy was effectively
fired from Harvard because some people didn’t like something he said
outside his classroom–and that ought to chill the bones of anyone who
regards freedom of expression as an important academic value.

One quote of Charlotte Allen’s article was misattributed:
 “Kissel had written, ‘We assume that the long-term benefits to our
community will outweigh the short-term unpleasant effects of sometimes-noxious
views. Because we are a community united by a commitment to rational processes,
we do not permit censorship of noxious views.'” Those were the words of
the Harvard FAS, not Adam Kissel.” The mistake has been corrected. –Ed

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

2 thoughts on “Harvard Faculty 1, Free Speech 0

  1. This is the same group that drove president Lawrence Summers out of office. They are oppressive dictators who do not value freedoms. They try and implement a world where we can only say what they want to allow us to say. Luckily the internet at present prevents totalitarian oppression from such traitors, but it may only be a matter of time before the internet becomes controlled entirely as they already tried to shut down websites that reveal unpalatable truths about Islam. I am worried for our country if good people are being educated by this liberal university. The sad thing is there are others on this campus who think like Diana Eck, Bose & Company. That is very scary.

  2. As I point out in my blog (link below) on this subject, advocates of censorship generally proclaim their dedication to freedom of speech, as long as the speech doesn’t “go too far.” But beyond the usual problems of academic censorship is the additional question of whether the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as an institution, should be taking an official position on what is appropriate or inappropriate for Indian citizens to write about Indian political and social issues in a newspaper in India.

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