The Boston Globe reports that “Harvard revokes admission to at least 10 students for offensive Facebook posts.”
First of all, don’t students have some expectation of first amendment rights? I don’t know what they posted (other than that it was reported to be offensive blather). What do we expect from teenagers? Aren’t we all supposed to do stupid, experimental things to stretch our wings? If that did not involve making some mistakes, it means we’re not really stretching very far.
Second, the university claims the right to expel a student for pretty much any behavior “that brings into question their honesty, maturity, or moral character.”
Does posting to a website constitute the kind of egregious act that calls into question someone’s character? Perhaps, but only in the view that character and one’s views should be fully formed by age 18. My brother, for example, vehemently protested against the “evil forces of global capitalism” while a student at Boston University in the 1960s. A few years later, he became an international banker for Citibank! Strange how time heals many things.
Hate speech is stupid speech and harmful speech. Is the world a better place without it? Undoubtedly. In most cases (where no law is being violated), should it be legislated away or censured by college administrators? I think not. The kinds of egregious things students said during Vietnam War protests were hyperbolic and hate-filled toward our soldiers, but should students have been expelled for such things? Most of us would say no.
What if a student in the 1930s had voiced dissent against the racist, sexist, and anti-Jewish policies of Harvard at that time? Should he be expelled? We would say, no!
Alan Dershowitz, who retired from Harvard Law School, worries about the bad precedent set by Harvard’s decision:
“Punishing students academically for their political views or their personal values is a serious mistake…. These actions are not consistent with the spirit of the First Amendment.”
Instead, Dershowitz argued that counseling students would be far more effective in trying to create a culture of mutual respect. Create an opportunity for empathy to flourish, and that happens with engagement, not expulsion.
[Thanks to Bette Viano for the link!]