Faculty Cancel Controversial Summer School Instructor's Courses, Debate Reaction to 'Occupy'

At meeting focusing on free speech, some professors chastise Faust for closing gates, and most vote to remove Subramanian Swamy's courses

Faculty members challenged University President Drew G. Faust on Harvard’s decision to lock the gates to the Yard in response to the Occupy Harvard movement at Tuesday’s Faculty meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty members chose to remove two summer economics courses at the Summer School taught by Subramanian Swamy, a controversial Indian political figure. Over the summer, Swamy published an op-ed that advocated for the destruction of hundreds of Indian mosques and the disenfranchisement of non-Hindus in India.

Chief Information Officer for the University Anne H. Margulies concluded the meeting by updating faculty on the newly-created Harvard University Information Technology system and its future vision, which included greater collaboration with the library and further digital pedagogy.

OCCUPY HARVARD

In the first Faculty meeting since Harvard students pitched tents in the middle of the Yard, Faust affirmed Harvard’s obligation to safeguard its community while continuing an atmosphere of free speech.

“There is an effort to maintain two sets of values: the values of free expression that are at the core of a university and its identity and our responsibility for the safety of the Harvard community, especially the 1,400 freshmen living within the Yard and the Occupiers within the Yard,” Faust said.

In particular, Faust referenced the recent death of an Occupy protester at the University of North Texas and several crimes committed at Occupy Boston. According to Faust, the University, through securing the gates, had only excluded the dangerous elements of the movement while still maintaining the right to speak freely.

“There is a difference between the issue the movement is raising and the way the movement is expressed,” Faust said. “I have no interest in restricting access to the Yard for one day longer than necessary.”

Despite Faust’s argument, faculty members still expressed concerns of limiting free speech.

Susan R. Suleiman, interim chair of the Romance Languages and Literatures department, followed up on many of the issues raised in a letter that she and almost 30 other faculty members wrote to Faust calling for the reopening of the gates.

“What I’m concerned about is that this is really larger than us. This is a global movement,” Suleiman said. “Wouldn’t it be, in some way, consistent with our values and strategic in many other ways, to actually take a stand and say that inequalities in this country are terrible?”

But Faust maintained that the University must remain impartial on political issues.

“You all take positions, but a university does not take positions,” Faust said. “It engages and encourages every kind of speech.”

SUMMER SCHOOL TROUBLE

A subsequent vote for the approval of the 2012 Summer School course catalog, which faculty acknowledged would normally take no more than one minute, generated a heated debate when Comparative Religion Professor Diana L. Eck proposed an amendment to exclude Swamy’s Economics S-110 and Economics S-1316 from the catalog.

Swamy received significant criticism for an op-ed he wrote last summer in the Indian newspaper Daily News and Analysis, in which he called for the destruction of mosques, the disenfrachisement of non-Hindus in India who do not acknowledge Hindu ancestry, and a ban on conversion from Hinduism.

“Swamy’s op-ed clearly crosses the line by demonizing an entire religious community and calling for violence against their sacred places,” Eck said, adding that Harvard has a moral responsibility not to affiliate itself with anyone who expresses hatred towards a minority group. “There is a distinction between unpopular and unwelcome political views.”

Although Harvard chose to stand by Swamy in August in an effort to affirm its declared commitment to free speech, faculty members shot down his two courses, effectively removing him from Harvard’s teaching roster. Many faculty determined Swamy’s article was not a product of free speech—but of hate speech.

“[Swamy’s position on disenfranchisement] is like saying Jewish Americans and African Americans should not be allowed to vote unless they acknowledge the supremacy of white Anglo Saxon Protestants,” said History Professor Sugata Bose.

Dean of the Summer School Donald H. Pfister explained that courses included in the catalog are chosen by individual departments.

“I find [Swamy’s] position reprehensible, but on the other hand, it is our duty to support departments and their offerings,” he said.

Philosophy Department Chair Sean D. Kelly, who also serves as vice-chair of the Faculty Docket Committee, initially defended the unanimous decision of Harvard’s Faculty Council to keep Swamy on the teaching roster as an effort to preserve free speech at the school and kick the vote to the faculty-wide meeting.

Kelly ultimately voted—as did an overwhelming majority of faculty members—for the amendment to remove Swamy’s courses. The revised catalog was consequently approved.

“I was persuaded ... that the views expressed in Dr. Swamy’s op-ed piece amounted to incitement of violence instead of protected political speech,” he wrote in an email to The Crimson.

HUIT CHUGS FORWARD

Launched this July as a newly integrated network of Harvard’s two major IT systems—FAS IT and University IT—Harvard University Information Technology has already upgraded Harvard’s iSites platform and expanded the FAS standing committee on IT.

“The students and faculty this year were served much more seamlessly by a single team,” Margulies said.

HUIT is poised to implement four new initiatives “devoted to fixing things that are broken while keeping the trains running on time,” she said.

On Wednesday, HUIT is launching a new student information system that will streamline the enrollment processes for students across the University. HUIT is also working on a common identity management system, collaborative efforts with the library system to increase web access to library resources, and the support of innovative teaching practices through the use of video, Margulies said.

In response to one question about difficulties experienced by faculty members during migration between email interfaces, Margulies said that HUIT is working with Google to address security issues.

“We’re hoping in the future we may be able to offer Gmail as an option for faculty,” she said.

—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at radhikajain@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Kevin J. Wu can be reached at kwu@college.harvard.edu.

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