By James F. Tierney
Two weeks ago, Harvey Silverglate blogged about a federal Magistrate Judge, Wayne Brazil, who overturned a “civility code” at San Francisco State University on the grounds that it targeted speech and expression that falls under the protection of the First Amendment. (The case was brought by the officers of SFSU's College Republicans, who were investigated under the civility code when students complained they had insulted Muslims by stepping on the Hamas and Hezbollah flags -- which contain the word “Allah” in Arabic script -- during an anti-terrorism rally.
By Harvey Silverglate
H. L. Mencken, late in life, allowed himself to be
interviewed by a young reporter from his hometown newspaper. The interviewer
asked the grand old curmudgeon, "why, if you find so much that is unworthy
of reverence in the United
States, do you continue to live here?" Mencken
answered the query with another question: “Why do people visit zoos?”
Well, living right smack in the middle of the zoo that Harvard has become
in its dotage, I now understand Mencken’s reasoning perfectly.
Scholars have for centuries sought
to define and promote the concept of academic freedom, and, while the exact
definitions they’ve arrived at have varied, the underlying rationale has always
been the same: to shield academics from political and religious pressure. For
this reason, I’m a bit puzzled by the fact that many of the modern-day groups that
describe themselves as defenders of academic freedom are also clearly political
in nature and often seem to be promoting a political agenda rather than
neutral principles of liberty.