Campus Free Speech

Harvard President Lawrence Bacow to Activist Students Who Shut Down His Talk: 'The Heckler's Veto Has No Place' Here

"Everyone who has been invited to speak at Harvard in recent memory-has been able to do so."

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Last week, activist students at Harvard University rushed the stage to prevent President Lawrence Bacow from speaking at a Kennedy Center event. They did so in support of divesting the university's $400 million budget from fossil fuels and for-profit prisons.

Administrators implored the 30 protesters to leave the stage and continue their activism toward the back of the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum so that the event could proceed. They refused, shouting, "If we don't get it, shut it down," a common activist refrain.

Eventually, Bacow eventually gave up, and some members of the audience followed him to a classroom for a discussion.

On Wednesday, Bacow published an op-ed in The Harvard Crimson condemning the activists' tactics. "To my knowledge, everyone ever invited to speak at the Forum—indeed, everyone who has been invited to speak at Harvard in recent memory—has been able to do so," he writes. "That is no longer the case as of last Thursday."

What I saw last week was not a group of students looking to engage in conversation about things that matter to them. It was, instead, an effort to obstruct the rights of others to speak and to listen. A university committed to truth cannot function if some members of our community shout down others. Our University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities makes clear the right to protest and dissent, but it makes equally clear that this right may not be exercised in a way that interferes with values that are essential to the nature of our enterprise, among them the freedom to exchange ideas.

The heckler's veto has no place at Harvard. When we shut down conversation, when we shut down debate, we shut down the opportunity to learn through reasoned discourse. It would be a shame if the state of our national public discourse, which has become so coarse, becomes the state of our campus discourse as well. We should strive to model the behavior we would hope to see in the rest of the world. Now is the time to ask ourselves: What kind of community do we want to be?

In a recent essay for RealClearEducation, I argue that while there is no free speech "crisis" on college campuses, there is certainly a problem:

Irrespective of the polling, most students are not inclined to take steps to censor a visiting speaker, or retaliate against a professor who offended them. But many campuses possess a small number of extremely far-left students who view speech that discomforts them as a threat to their mental well-being, and ultimately their physical safety. When these students take matters into their own hands, the rest of campus—other students, faculty, and administrators—often have no idea what to do. Many disagree with the mob, but do not wish to become their next target. Indeed, professors routinely tell me that they are afraid of provoking their most liberal students….

It would be wrong to succumb to generational fatalism: As a whole, the "kids these days" probably aren't significantly less enthusiastic about the First Amendment. But there's more than enough reason to be concerned that an anti-speech minority is getting its way, and the majority isn't sure what to do about it. For all those who want college campuses to remain places where controversial speech is welcome, something's gotta give.

Consider Bacow's testimony as yet more evidence that something has gone wrong on elite college campuses.

NEXT: The ACLU Defends Gun Owners' Constitutional Rights, Except for the Second Amendment Right to Own Guns

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  1. “The heckler’s veto has no place at Harvard.”

    With all due respect, apparently it does.

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  2. “But many campuses possess a small number of extremely far-left students who view speech that discomforts them as a threat to their mental well-being, and ultimately their physical safety.”

    No they aren’t. They’ve simply learned that this is an effective tactic and excuse for shutting down anyone who falls outside of their creed. As in “professors [who] routinely tell me that they are afraid of provoking their most liberal students….”

    1. It should come true that the speech of others may be viewed as a threat to their physical safety.
      As soon as they start to storm the stage, the others in the crowd should tackle them and throw them out; shouting “stop resisting” as they beat the hell out of them.

    2. You’ve just explained academia in a nutshell.

    3. Absolutely correct.

  3. “The heckler’s veto has no place at Harvard.”

    I will believe that when all who participated in violating the speaker’s first amendment rights are permanently expelled.

    1. Perhaps on the first offense expulsion is a bit harsh.

      Instead, tape their mouths shut and put them in a room where they are forced to listen to screaming, obnoxious MAGA zealots for a total of 40 hours over a one week period and then pass a test showing they understand, although not necessarily agree with, the position of the MAGA zealots. If they fail the test, another 40 hours and another test…

      Second offense, expel them.

  4. He’s the fucking president of the university and he can’t call the cops to remove the damned trespassers? Get their ID and expel the students? No criminal trespass charges?

    No wonder colleges suck at liberty and accountability.

    1. You’d think that expelling a few protest groups like that would go a long way towards stopping that shit.

      1. They’re too busy picking on Christian groups for requiring their officers to abide by their charter.

        1. The axing of Harvard’s Charter of 1650 – the one about the Pilgrim Fathers “fearing to leave to our Posterity an unlettered Clergy” , and the overthrow of the Board of Overseers in a faculty coup spearheaded by President Faust ( Bryn Mawr ’68) in 2015 paved the way for President Bacow, (MIT ’72)

          Harvard hasn’t had a president since 1971.

          It’s really beginning to show

  5. Now is the time to ask ourselves: What kind of community do we want to be?

    And when they tell you, will you be willing to act like a President?

    1. They already told him last week. Apparently he wasn’t listening, even though they were speaking very loudly and very vigorously.

    2. How would he know ? Harvard’s last Harvard educate president resigned in the aftermath of student riots half a century ago.

    3. You should have been asking that question 2+ years ago, as conservatives have been shut down, disinvited, ad nauseum. We already know what sort of community Harvard has become. The question is – do you intend to get Harvard back on track?

  6. Here’s the President of Harvard nipping at the heels of his own fine institution by blathering about alleged free-expression problems, when he should be criticizing Biola or Wheaton. What a goober.

  7. The President of Harvard doesn’t simply have to whine about violations of school policy. He has the power.

    1. Haven’t heard that song in a long time. And I was expecting a He-Man clip.

      1. I have a potentially NSFW version of the same song.

  8. They should be easy to identify and expel.

    1. True. Harvard should stop being wimpy and expel them. But his objections rather than apologies argues against the narrative that all elite colleges encourage this sort of repulsive behavior.

      1. But his objections rather than apologies argues against the narrative that all elite colleges encourage this sort of repulsive behavior.

        No. First because he is not the college.

        But second since he could stop it and chooses not to the interpretation which fits the evidence most completely is that he does support the behavior but doesn’t want to accept the criticism of doing so openly.

      2. His apologies for being such a big meanie will come a few days from now.

        1. But why? There are a million people who would love to attend Harvard and who are qualified. What do they think they gain by letting this crap continue?

      3. No, it doesn’t argue against it. Harvard has been silent for 2+ years at least, as conservatives were disrupted, disinvited, and otherwise de-platformed.
        It remains to be seen whether Harvard will actually rediscover that free inquiry and free speech is part of its core mission, or whether they will merely apply sanctions to those who disrupt the speech they favor. I’m hardly optimistic.

  9. “but it makes equally clear that this right may not be exercised in a way that interferes with values that are essential to the nature of our enterprise, among them the freedom to exchange ideas.”

    Says the guy who stuck his tail between his legs and slunk off the stage.

    You’re the President and you won’t even do anything (other than write something useless after the fact) about YOUR right to speak? Time for talk is over. Start dragging these people out and jailing them.

  10. But many campuses possess a small number of extremely far-left students who view speech that discomforts them as a threat to their mental well-being, and ultimately their physical safety.

    Expel them. Explain to them that it’s for their own safety. Even go so far as refunding their tuition. And then remind them that they could have received a degree from Harvard.

  11. Has much as I hate cops a severe beat down would come in handy about now.

    1. *Tazes Ice Trey*

  12. Someone will be along shortly to explain to you how denying others of free speech by heckling is also free speech.

    1. OBLT, right?

    2. No, it isn’t – emphatically not. Free speech includes the right to protest other people’s speech, but not the right to protest in a way that will shut them down.
      Make your argument with more persuasive speech. It is a sign of cowardice and a weak argument when you attempt to shut down speech you don’t agree with.

  13. “Look, I get it when you try to intimidate conservative speakers, but don’t you dare do it to ME.”

    It’s kind of like how the Democrats never cared about Russia until they thought (or pretended to think) it was hurting them electorally.

    1. Pretty much. No one’s losing sleep over Young Republicans getting harassed by students and teachers.

    2. So true.

  14. Free speech on America’s higher re-education camps?
    Of course not.
    That goes contrary to the socialist narrative of one collective and politically correct narrative dominating on campus the past few decades.

  15. “Last week, activist students at Harvard University rushed the stage to prevent President Lawrence Bacow from speaking at a Kennedy Center event.”

    The Kennedy Center is a performing arts center in Washington D.C. The event being covered in this article took place at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This information is available for you to look up and confirm for yourself, which is always advisable for any author to do before hitting “publish.”

    It might also be worth considering an edit to the sentence quoted below, as the second “eventually” is redundant.

    “Eventually, Bacow eventually gave up, and some members of the audience followed him to a classroom for a discussion.”

    These may seem like minor details but they contribute to an overall appearance of unprofessionalism when reading the article.

    1. Another concern troll from Yale

  16. “:It would be a shame if the state of our national public discourse, which has become so coarse, becomes the state of our campus discourse as well.”

    Sorry, but where the hell has this guy been the last few years? Campus discourse is FAR worse than the general public discourse. Guess it takes actually using the heckler’s veto against HIM to wake him up to reality.

    1. A new round of complaining about campus intolerance of opinions is starting–because the leftists won the first round.

      They are now expanding outward and beginning to eat their own as is their common practice.

    2. Very true

  17. What cave has Bacow been holed up in? Conservatives and administration officials have been disrupted at Harvard, including the Kennedy school, for 2+ years AT LEAST. Check the videos of DeVos being disrupted at the Kennedy School. School officials on the stage did NOTHING to prevent the disruption. And Blacow has only just discovered the problem? Or does he care because HE was disrupted?

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