The following is adapted from Harvey Silverglate’s address at his Harvard Law School 50th Reunion on Oct. 28.
When I began Harvard Law School I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist who writes about law. After graduating 50 years ago, I became both — litigating criminal, First Amendment, students’ rights and civil-liberties cases, and writing about law for various publications.
I eventually also co-authored or wrote two books — “The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses,” about the abysmal degradation of our institutions of higher learning (including, sadly, Harvard and its law school), and, “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” about the abusive practices of the US Department of Justice that has the ability, under vague federal statutes, to prosecute just about anyone
The nature of my law practice certainly evolved with the times, but the basic outlines have remained remarkably stable.
Perhaps the most surprising direction that my practice has taken occurred in the mid-1980s, when I noticed that college and university administrators, including at Harvard College and at our Law School, took a seemingly abrupt turn away from intellectual and pedagogical endeavors, and toward institutions more interested in “training” rather than truly educating its students.
Indeed, my first published op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, in 1996, excoriated the Harvard Law faculty, and then-Dean Robert Clark, for the faculty’s enactment of “sexual harassment guidelines” that seriously impacted on free speech and academic freedom at our law school. Dean Clark explained this act of censorship by claiming that there “is the need perceived among students that we have to discuss this or be seen as uncaring of their concerns.”
Harvard and all of its constituent schools to this day maintain speech-restrictive codes that interfere with academic freedom. As I’m wont to say: “You can say things in Harvard Square that would get you punished for saying in Harvard Yard.”
With the publication of “The Shadow University,” I began to get overwhelmed with frantic requests from students and faculty members who were being prosecuted — or more accurately, persecuted — for some verbal offense that a few years earlier would have been deemed protected speech or at least no big deal. Unable to handle the volume of cases, my co-author and I started, in 1999, The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to help the beleaguered victims of campus administrative overreach.
In all my years of work in this area, one key lesson stands out.
If you have a cause, you need to enlist the energy and intelligence of the younger generations in order to see it through. No man, or woman, is an island. None of us can do it alone.
If our colleges and graduate and professional schools ever return to their mission to educate rather than train, and to promote freedom over forced conformity, the primary reasons for such a victory would involve not the 75-year-old Harvey Silverglates and the Class of 1967, but the 20-somethings in school, and the 30-somethings in organizations such as FIRE.It is these folks who devote themselves to keeping the torch of learning and teaching burning despite the efforts of academic bureaucrats to extinguish them in the name of some cause vaguely described with essentially meaningless and tendentious terms such as “diversity and inclusion.”
Those seeking to impose diversity and inclusion on campus seem to be interested in producing students all of whom look different, but who think alike. This isn’t education.
And so I remain an unrepentant political liberal and unabashed civil libertarian who is thankful for a life-long opportunity to fight for the people, institutions and causes that remain near and dear to my heart. And I thank our professors at Harvard Law School between the years 1964 and 1967 for giving me a grounding that made this career possible.
All the constituent schools at Harvard still have a goodly number of such professors, although every year it gets harder and harder to push beyond the growing bureaucracy’s increasing obsession with administrators’ replacing professors as the guiding lights of their institutions.
This struggle, I am confident, will be carried forward by those of us with the strength and wherewithal to fight, and especially by the generations that come after us that we have had a hand in educating and inspiring.
This piece was originally published by New York Post