Professor To Bring Free Speech Motion to Faculty

Matory says speech impeded; others allege anti-Israel agenda

CORRECTION APPENDED

A professor who feels academic debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been stifled will push the full Faculty next week to explicitly embrace free speech at Harvard. But others allege that the move is motivated by ideology rather than free expression.

J. Lorand Matory ’82, professor of Anthropology and African-American Studies, appeared before the Faculty Council at its meeting yesterday to further discuss issues he raised in an op-ed in The Crimson on Sept. 14 and to discuss the motion he plans to present at next week’s Faculty meeting.

He argued in the September op-ed that those who question Zionism and Israeli policy toward Palestine “tremble in fear” of the backlash that would result from voicing their opinions.

“My colleagues are urging me to bring forward a resolution [to the Faculty meeting] in support of free speech,” he said. “I want for us to be able to talk openly. If there is fear and pain, it should be expressed.”

Judith L. Ryan, a German literature professor and member of the Faculty Council docket committee, said that the 18-member governing body of FAS hoped his presentation next week would usher in a broader discussion about free speech at Harvard.

“It wouldn’t just be about the Israel-Palestine issue,” she said. “Several people—and I would belong to those people—would hope that he would broaden his presentation.”

But Yiddish Literature Professor Ruth R. Wisse said that free speech is not Matory’s main concern.

“This is a bogus issue,” she said. “There is an agenda here and free speech is not it.”

Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, known for his outspoken defense of Israel, said that Matory only advocates free speech when it supports his viewpoint.

“Professor Matory has no real interest in freedom of speech or academic freedom,” Dershowitz said. “He just disapproves of certain kind of speech and he is misusing academic freedom and freedom of speech to make an ideological argument.”

Because Dershowitz is not a member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he will not be allowed to attend next week’s meeting unless invited. But he challenged Matory to debate the issue with him “on a level playing field.”

Matory said that he hopes his legislation will allow for all viewpoints to be heard on this particularly controversial issue.

“In the past, name-calling has overwhelmed civil debate,” Matory said. “I’m hoping to avoid this.”

In other business, Professor Jay M. Harris—chair of the committee in charge of transitioning away from the Core Curriculum—said at the meeting that the present estimate is that the class of 2013 will be the first to graduate solely under the new General Education system.

This is the first time the administration has provided a date for the dismissal of the Core. Before yesterday’s meeting, Harris had said that the class of 2011 would be able to graduate under the Core, and perhaps Gen Ed.

—Staff writer Alexandra Hiatt can be reached at ahiatt@fas.harvard.edu. —Staff writer Maxwell L. Child can be reached at child@fas.harvard.edu.

CORRECTION: The Nov. 8 news article "Professor To Bring Free Speech Motion to Faculty" wrongly identified German literature professor Judith L. Ryan as a member of the Faculty Council's docket committee. She is no longer a member of the docket committee.