Thank You for Saying This Out Loud

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Thank you, Lawrence Bobo, for making the obvious explicit: college administrators hate and fear freedom of speech.

Bobo is dean of social science at Harvard. On June 15 he took it upon himself to ask two questions in the columns of the Harvard Crimson:

Is it outside the bounds of acceptable professional conduct for a faculty member to excoriate University leadership, faculty, staff, or students with the intent to arouse external intervention into University business? And does the broad publication of such views cross a line into sanctionable violations of professional conduct?

To both questions his answer is a forthright “yes.”

As with most tyrannical ideas and statements, there’s a comic side to the dean’s pronouncements. I’m picturing all the little dictators at Harvard buzzing with insect fury about certain news items I can easily imagine. The first is a headline that I’m sure has also come to Lawrence Bobo’s mind:

“My dean is a moron,” says Harvard prof.

There are countless other possibilities:

  • “My students are mainly schmucks,” Harvard prof alleges.
  • “Harvard practices racial discrimination,” claims professor of sociology.
  • “Harvard sidewalks are dangerous when wet,” worries professor of medicine.
  • “Why give money to Harvard?” queries professor of psychology.
  • “Stop ignoring college whistleblowers!” demands professor of ethics.
  • “Many Harvard bigwigs are unrepentant plagiarists,” everyone agrees.

And, of course, there’s the conundrum that doesn’t seem to have occurred to Bobo: “Dean attacks faculty for attacking faculty.”

Odd that a Harvard professor wouldn’t think of that small logical problem.

In my several decades as a senior professor at a major research university, I identified no instance of a student demonstration, there or at any other institution of higher learning, that had not been encouraged, if not directly incited, by faculty. Punishment, even for illegal acts, has been slight or nonexistent, not least because college demonstrations are uniformly leftist.

Boot out Dean Bobo? Oh, the humanity! “The media” finally got him!

 

So it is not surprising to me that Bobo spends a lot of time hemming and hawing about protests in favor of causes especially favored by the Left. He wants violations of college codes to be punished in some unspecified way, but he also wants students to be taught “about making strategic choices of targets and proper or allowable modes of engagement.” (That’s why you go to college — in order to learn proper “modes of engagement” when you want to agitate for some leftist demand.) But his real concern is protestors’ alleged tendency to attack, not outsiders — “non-University events, businesses, or government bodies” — but people like himself, “those charged with a pastoral duty of care for their students.”

“Pastoral”?

What the dean desires is the preservation of Harvard Inc.’s immunity from criticism:

As Harvard has moved to limit its opining on salient public issues [when, pray, did that happen?], we must use our voices as faculty responsibly. Do we allow individual faculty with large external platforms to invite external interference and encourage student misconduct without consequence?

The word “external” really stirs him up:

A faculty member’s right to free speech does not amount to a blank check to engage in behaviors that plainly incite external actors — be it [sic] the media, alumni, donors, federal agencies, or the government — to intervene in Harvard’s affairs.

In case you wonder why this is true, Bobo cites the notion that you don’t have a right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. So fragile, in his view, are Harvard’s students, faculty, and administrators — if you criticize them, they’ll go wild, and destroy the temple of discourse. But wait! That’s not right. It’s the “external actors,” the barbarous firefighters, who will break in and . . . what? Boot out Dean Bobo? Oh, the humanity! “The media” finally got him!

Odd that a Harvard professor wouldn’t think of that small logical problem.

 

The dean’s high counsel and admonition amounts to this: hunker down, maintain silence, keep it all in Vegas; then the media will keep playing along, and the donors and the government will keep giving us money. The paradox is that the dean himself is blurting out the truth. How smart is that?

Not very. Nevertheless, Dean Bobo will go down in history as one of this era’s most honest exponents of the hive mind. Of course, a hive mind is no mind at all, but minds aren’t essential to the Harvard scheme.

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