In violation of the University's policy on free speech, a security firm recently suppressed the distribution of critical leaflets on the campus of the Harvard Business School (HBS). On Nov. 6, members of the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) attempted to pass out leaflets condemning the membership of HBS professor Regina E. Herzlinger on the board of Cardinal Health, a company alleged to mistreat its workers and replace strikers with scabs.
Almost immediately after beginning distribution, the PSLM protest was thwarted by a security firm on the HBS campus. The Harvard University Police Department showed up soon after, and Officer Laureen Donahue informed the students that "Harvard has a policy of no solicitation and no protesting." With regard to a policy of free speech, one Business School official who would not identify himself said, "We don't have a policy like that here."
Had these University officials been accountable to a Business School which protected freedom of speech, they might not have allowed the hired security firm to stop the leafleters. And had the security firm been accountable to the University officials under a free speech policy, they never would have reacted the way they did. For, as the University's official policy states, "Interference with [freedom of speech] must be regarded as a serious violation of the personal rights upon which the community is based."
Now, HBS officials are working toward an official policy on free speech on its campus. Faced with a conflict over free speech for the first time, the Business School has commenced a formulation of its own policy on free speech; the plan is to follow the FAS's guidelines on the matter. Although we are pleased with the administration's willingness to adjust its policy, we are dismayed that this omission was so long-lived. Free speech is the one right most precious to an academic community. An institution that proclaims a mission to disseminate knowledge and foster free thought must safeguard this inviolable right.
We are glad that, at the PSLM's prompting, the Business School quickly realized the error of its ways and decided to draw up a specific stance on free speech on its campus. We urge that the formulation of this policy include all members of the Harvard community, including, interested faculty members and administrators, since free speech is perhaps the most important clause in the official policy of any academic institution.