LETTERS: Speech code furor and military law


Continued furor over “speech code”

Like many, I am concerned that a speech code would chill legitimate speech on campus. In particular, I wonder whether Diversity Committee members would discipline the author of any of the following opinions:

1) Only the most hyperbolic imagination could believe that racism remains a problem at Harvard. Indeed, the threat of being called a racist does more to chill speech on campus than the use of racial slurs.

2) However uncouth the two racist incidents of last spring, most adults, to say nothing of aspiring attorneys, learn to withstand such petty contumely. Even if they can’t, the incidents did not merit public demonstrations, months of campus angst, petitions, demands from the administration, and, now, a speech code.

3) The two students responsible for the racist incidents of last spring have already suffered public obloquy, ostracization, discipline from the administration, withdrawn job offers, and may have had their legal careers ruined. A regime that visits even more punishment upon others like them verges on cruelty.

4) The effect, if not the purpose, of “Diversity Fairs,” “Ethnic Counselors,” and other programs of “Sensitivity Training” is to augment racial differences and exacerbate racial tensions. If the administration really wanted to promote understanding between races, it would eliminate all such programs and add no more.

5) African-Americans at Harvard are far more likely to have their speech chilled by fellow African-Americans than anyone else, as the savage treatment that Clarence Thomas receives attests. Given that groups like BLSA reinforce the assumption that African-Americans speak univocally, an administration serious about encouraging African-Americans to speak up would withdraw its imprimatur from BLSA and all other ethnic student groups.

6) African-Americans may very well feel disproportionately intimidated at Harvard Law School, but that is more likely a function of affirmative action, which creates a presumption that blacks on campus are less qualified, than systemic racism on campus.

7) BLSA’s habit last spring of capitalizing the first letter of “black” in its literature has undeniably racialist overtones. Certainly no group could get away with calling whites “Whites.”

I welcome any thoughts on which of the above opinions, if any, should be silenced.

— Austin W. Bramwell, 3L
The above letter first appeared on our website in December

I recently read a story about the debate inside Harvard Law School regarding the establishment of a harrassment policy for the school. The article reminded me of events that transpired at Tufts University during my sophomore year, 1988-89.During the fall semester, a male student printed and sold T-shirts on campus that listed “The Top 15 Reasons Why Beer is Better Than Women at Tufts.” The T-shirt offended a lot of people, and one female student in particular was so offended that she asked the administration for permission to buy the shirts and burn them on the campus quad.

The administration responded by suspending the male student who printed the shirts and establishing a speech code that laid out private, semi-private and public zones on campus with different rules for allowable speech.

The speech code sparked a debate at Tufts much like the current debate at Harvard Law School. Opinions on campus were sharply divided about the potential effects of the code. In the end, a Harvard Constitutional Law professor (whose name, alas, eludes me) wrote a spirited defense of free speech that, in large part, led the administration at Tufts to repeal the speech code policy.

There is certainly a better way to protect students from harassment than to demolish the First Amendment. I strongly urge the faculty and the administration at Harvard Law to review the events that transpired at Tufts in 1988-89 and, much as that administration did, reject the establishment of a de facto speech code for the school on Constitutional grounds.

— Robert Munn

HLS should have military law class

My understanding is that Harvard Law School has finally decided to comply with federal law by allowing military recruiters access to students at HLS on a fair basis. While this is long overdue and welcome, it creates an unbalanced situation. Currently, HLS does not teach a single course on military law, although many of its graduates practice military law as civilian lawyers and as military lawyers.

Offering courses in military law is the right thing to do for current HLS students, for our HLS veterans and for our country.HLS students and faculty have the ability to maturely understand complex subjects, over which reasonable people may have different political viewpoints. The fact that people have differing views of the military should not prevent them from learning about the fundamentals of military law. For those individuals who wish to change and improve military laws, an understanding of the regulations is only going to make their arguments more detailed and convincing.

It is imperative for HLS students and faculty to understand that the military continues to be subject to political control. That is, the majority of their legal rules and regulations are directed by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court (and lower federal courts) and by the executive branch. It may well be the case that HLS could effect great improvement in the current and future state of military laws by training its students to develop a detailed understanding and appreciation of how these complex legal structures came to be, and how they can be reformed. To not teach students the fundamentals is to encourage them to not take part in a very necessary debate that can benefit future generations of soldiers and sailors.

To those who hold differing opinions on the matter, I encourage you to share your viewpoints on this important debate with the faculty, with each other and in the pages of this publication.

— LCDR Charles Facktor ’90
U.S. Naval Reserves

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