Would Harvard have tolerated an anti-Semite?
Harvard University, the US’s oldest higher-learning institution, has defended Hindutva advocate Subramanian Swamy’s “right to free speech” in response to a petition to oust him as summer instructor for his recent article considered hateful towards Muslims. Click here
The university is well within its rights to take such a view or decision based on the premise that an Islamophobe is entitled to exercise his right to free speech, however “distressful”.
But Harvard’s conclusion begs a simple question. Would Harvard have spared or tolerated an anti-Semite? In other words, would Harvard authorities have condoned Swamy had he said the same things about Jews? Very unlikely.
It is well known that the American public or institutions would not put up with any hatred towards Jews. Indeed, nobody should accept hatred towards not just Jews but all people.
One can reasonably argue that Harvard would not have unqualifiedly upheld free speech had Swamy’s rant been anti-Semitic rather than anti-Islamic.
A statement from Harvard spokesperson Jeff Neal said Swamy’s views were “distressful to many” and “understandably so” but the university upholds the right to free speech. Swamy continues teaching his summer Economics course.
In a July 16 op-ed on combating terror in the DNA newspaper, Swamy proposed disenfranchising Muslims unless they proudly declared their alleged Hindu ancestry and declaring India a Hindu state, apart from demolishing 300 mosques.
I think Swamy’s devious strategy to combat terror brings into question his cognitive functions, mental health and his suitability to be a teacher. His knowledge of counter-terrorism must be hollow. This is what Megan Knight, a reader, commented on a piece in the UK’s Times Higher Learning site on Swamy’s article.
“His (Swamy’s) knowledge of history must be particularly limited, since there have been no instances whatsoever of people ceasing to fight after having all their rights stripped. Man sounds like a loon, and should be deprived of his academic post on the basis of stupidity alone.” Click here
Harvard did not explicitly say if it investigated Swamy, but the spokesperson’s statement suggests it did not consider such an investigation necessary.
Harvard Summer School dean Donald H. Pfister, in an earlier statement, had said Harvard authorities would give “serious attention” to a petition from over 250 Harvard affiliates to terminate Swamy, suggesting some kind of disciplinary investigation. Click here
Separately, in an editorial, the Harvard Crimson — the Ivy League university’s fiercely independent 138-year-old newspaper – slammed Harvard for what it called “Harvard’s historical aversion to dismissing tenured faculty in any circumstance”, calling it “bizarre” and “unjustifiable”.
The editorial referred to past instances when faculty members were defended despite proven misconduct, such as in 2004, when professor “Andrei Shleifer was found liable for conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. The University not only refused to fire Shleifer, but it also went so far as to pay $26.5 million to settle a government lawsuit against him.”
I quote the editorial: “As any academic community should, Harvard mandates a certain code of conduct among its members. In turn, that code governs the University’s intellectual vitality and ensures its longevity. Refusing to hold any member of the community accountable — even the most highly esteemed — only sends the message that academic integrity is a suggestion rather than a requirement and an aspiration rather than a reality. Frankly, that’s a message far too dangerous for a research university as prestigious and as well-respected as Harvard to send to its affiliates and to the world.”
As everybody else, I have known Harvard as a hallowed institution of higher learning. And I take away nothing from this historic reputation when I say that Harvard has a heavily brained head but lacks a moral soul.