UC Calls For Free Speech Guarantees

In response to a student group’s complaint that their anti-abortion posters are being destroyed, the Undergraduate Council passed a resolution last night calling for strict enforcement of the University’s free speech guarantees.

The carefully tailored resolution does not refer to specific groups or incidents—as it did when originally presented—and pledges to reimburse any group for posters that are destroyed.

Members of the council said the logistics of such compensation have yet to be determined.

Citing the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ 1971 “Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities”—the University’s seminal document on free speech—the council demanded that the College take disciplinary action against those who destroy materials posted by approved student organizations.

“Any illegal poster destruction potentially inhibits free exchange and free expression of Harvard students and student groups,” the resolution reads.

In its original form, the proposal was a specific response to claims by anti-abortion group Harvard Right to Life (HRL) that its “Natalie” posters, which depict a fetus in progressive stages of development, are being widely vandalized.

As introduced by council member Brian C. Grech ’03, the resolution singled out one Feb. 13 incident where a teaching fellow was allegedly caught tearing down one of the posters.

Daniel L. Tapia ’05, a member of HRL, said at the meeting that Elgin K. Eckert, a student in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the Department of Romance Languages, admitted to tearing down a poster in Boylston Hall.

Eckert said in an interview yesterday that the incident in question was an accident.

“My scarf got stuck in one of the staples [affixing the poster],” Eckert said. Eckert said that while she did find the poster offensive she did not intend to destroy it.

Uncertainties about the facts of the incident led the council to remove the accusatory language.

After exhaustive debate and a parade of amendments, the council also removed all mention of HRL due to some members’ objections that other groups’ posters have been vandalized as well.

The council ultimately resolved that its Student Affairs Committee (SAC) would field complaints from student groups that have experienced “more than incidental poster destruction” and reimburse the costs of destroyed posters.

SAC Chair Matthew W. Mahan ’05 said the guidelines for reimbursement will be determined at a meeting later this week.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 wrote in an e-mail that students should not destroy posters with which they disagree, but emphasized the importance of students resolving their own disagreements.

“It just seems to me a matter of common sense...that the education is more likely to be advanced by the parties talking to each other and explaining their positions publicly than by Harvard central lowering the boom,” Lewis said.