To the Editors of the Crimson:
In a March 8th editorial entitled "A Common Academic Ground," it is suggested that increased faculty accessibility could prevent incidents like that which occured recently in Historical Studies A-25, where students charged Professor Stephan A. Thernstrom with racial insensitivity. If only students and faculty communicated better, says the editorial, then they could define the boundaries of academic discourse and avoid future misunderstandings. Such thinking is seriously flawed.
The Thernstrom incident was not the result of faculty inaccessibility. Professor Thernstrom's door is literally always open and he is more than willing to meet with those who have difficulties with his lectures. However, Thernstrom's accessibility has been to no avail, for the irate students have yet to discuss their grievances with Thernstrom. Instead, the malcontents have bypassed their professor and gone directly to the Committee on Race Relations, and from there the story has quickly found its way into the campus newspapers.
The blame for this incident rests not with an inaccessible faculty member, but rather with students more interested in trials than reasoned academic dialogue. To avoid future debacles, students must change and become willing to listen to theories that deviate from their own preconceptions and engage in debate within the classroom when those theories trouble them.
Even more troubling, however, is the editorial's suggestion that there may be theories whose "offensiveness outweighs any claims to academic common understanding of what can and cannot be accepted in academic discourse." Who is to decide what is offensive? And on what grounds? Are professors to be hindered from pursuing Veritas simply because vocal elements in the Harvard student body may be offended? Such intellectual intimidation is intolerable. Discourse must continue unfettered, even if there are those who prejudge all that deviates from the conventional wisdom. The academic community polices itself as junior faculty face review by tenure committees and senior faculty desire the respect of their peers. Student pressure groups and secret inquisitions are unneeded and dangerous additional restraints. Students should always feel free to challenge their professors, but never should run to the censors. Scott Feira '89
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