As the controversy over an article written by Janata Party leader
Subramanian Swamy snowballed, a US civil liberties group cautioned
Harvard University on taking action against its Summer School
Swamy, who earned his PhD from Harvard in 1965, penned an op-ed
published July 16 in Mumbai's DNA newspaper that advocated denial
of voting rights to non-Hindus with the goal of stemming terrorist
attacks in India.
Following the publication of the article, several Harvard
affiliates circulated a petition calling on the university to end
its ties with Swamy. The petition has gathered 312 signatures to
date and in a statement, the dean of the Summer School said that
the school "will give this matter our serious attention".
But in a letter to University President Drew G. Faust, the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a civil
liberties group with a focus on academia, said the group is
"concerned about the threat to freedom of expression" that may
come about from that attention.
"The threat of a disciplinary investigation of Swamy stands in
sharp and unflattering contrast to this admirable and appropriate
understanding of the importance of freedom of expression in the
academic community," Adam H. Kissel '94, vice president of
programmes at FIRE, wrote in the letter as cited by Harvard
Crimson, the university newsletter.
Harvard has not explicitly said that it is investigating Swamy or
that it has considered such an investigation.
Kissel wrote that an investigation of Swamy's article would go
against Harvard's commitment to free speech, as outlined in the
"Free Speech Guidelines" adopted by the Faculty of Arts and
Sciences in 1990.
"If members of the Harvard community are given to understand that
Harvard might begin an investigation-with possible disciplinary
consequences-of the views they express, they likely will
self-censor," he wrote. "This is precisely the result that a
university dedicated to intellectual freedom must seek to avoid."
"Harvard must honour its own promises," he told the Crimson in a
"Students have every right to protest for or against ideas in
article, as does Harvard, but Harvard may not investigate or
punish the expression."
(Arun Kumar can
be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)