Response to Dean Clark's Email (11/08)

Dear Dean Clark:
I am glad that you and Carl Kester are anxious for student feedback, and I would like to use your invitation to give you perspective on what some students feel.

There is wide-spread concern about the administration’s recent handling of freedom of speech issues regarding the Harbus, and I would like to bring these to your attention. The opening paragraph of my “Legal Aspects” textbook’s section on freedom of speech states, “The type of speech most clearly protected is political speech, including speech critical of government policies and officials.”

The Harbus cartoon contained a statement that, even keeping in mind that by their nature cartoons are often disrespectful, might be considered disrespectful of community standards. However, the cartoon also criticizes the administration’s efforts regarding careers.

I believe that the administration should have been sensitive to the fact that threatening personal consequences for the editor with regards to content critical of it may create the impression with students that the administration is trying to quell criticism of its effectiveness, as opposed to trying to quell the disrespectful nature of the cartoon.

More importantly, if outsiders can gain this impression, then the same impression is likely to occur to the editor, whether intended by the administration or not. In that sense, the effect of the administration’s actions, whether intentional or brought on through insensitivity, was to impair the editorial independence of the Harbus.

I agree that the phrase “incompetent morons” is unhelpful, non-constructive and disrespectful. However, I assure you that this and many a similar phrase were uttered by students all over campus, none of whom were threatened with community standards consequences. This development should be much more worrying to anyone trying to defend the nature of the HBS community than the Harbus’s ill-fated attempt to express students’ frustration.

If the Harbus is to be a forum for open debate, then publication of students’ views should not be followed by behind the scene dealings.

Instead, I suggest that if the administration believes that views expressed are highly inappropriate, it should address this through a letter published in the Harbus. This openness would not only dispell the impression that criticism is being supressed, it would also reach the many students who privately hold similar views to those expressed in the Harbus but who in this instance would likely not have found out about the administration’s unhappiness had the editor of the Harbus not resigned. A lively and public debate is the best way to keep the HBS community spirit alive.

I believe many students share my concerns regarding freedom of speech, and that the students do not see their concerns fully addressed by the email you sent out today. I would suggest that maybe a letter to the Harbus that clarifies the administration’s intentions with regards to its actions as well as clearly states its policy with regards to monitoring Harbus content would be an effective way to dispel any misconceptions and confusions that exist.

With best regards,
Martin Brand