In the wake of a controversial article written by Subramanian Swamy, the group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to University President Drew G. Faust on Wednesday urging her not to allow Harvard to take action against the Harvard Summer School instructor.
Swamy, a political leader in India who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1965, penned an op-ed published July 16 in the Indian newspaper Daily News and Analysis that advocated for the removal of hundreds of mosques and the denial of voting rights to non-Hindus with the goal of stemming terrorist attacks in the country.
Following the publication of the article, several Harvard affiliates circulated a petition calling on the University to end its ties with Swamy, and in a statement, the dean of the Summer School said that the school “will give this matter our serious attention.”
But FIRE, a civil liberties group with a focus on academia, cautioned in its letter to Faust that the group is “concerned about the threat to freedom of expression” that may come about from that attention.
“The threat of a disciplinary investigation of Swamy stands in sharp and unflattering contrast to this admirable and appropriate understanding of the importance of freedom of expression in the academic community,” Adam H. Kissel '94, vice president of programs at FIRE, wrote in the letter.
Harvard has not explicitly said that it is investigating Swamy or that it has considered such an investigation. Messages to spokespeople for the University were not immediately returned.
Swamy teaches Economics S-110: “Quantitative Methods in Economics and Business” and Economics S-1316: “Economic Development in India and East Asia” at the Summer School.
In his letter, Kissel said that an investigation of Swamy’s article would go against Harvard’s commitment to free speech, as outlined in the “Free Speech Guidelines” adopted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1990.
“If members of the Harvard community are given to understand that Harvard might begin an investigation—with possible disciplinary consequences—of the views they express, they likely will self-censor,” he wrote. “This is precisely the result that a university dedicated to intellectual freedom must seek to avoid.”
“Harvard must honor its own promises,” he said in a phone interview. “Students have every right to protest for or against ideas in article, as does Harvard, but Harvard may not investigate or punish the expression.”
While in some instances a professor’s publicized opinions might warrant disciplinary action, in these “extreme cases,” the professor’s opinion would have to prevent him from successfully teaching the subject, he said.
“In this case, it’s an economics professor with political opinions, and his subject has nothing to do with politics,” he said. “The University cannot simply investigate someone for publishing an opinion piece.”
—Staff writer Leanna B. Ehrlich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.