Letters to the Editor

To the editor:

I write regarding the article, “New Lecture Policy Calls for New Forms of Student Interaction,” by Michael V. Rothberg in Monday’s Crimson. Two years ago, The Crimson was reporting on the death of the lecture and the push for more active learning. With Harvard classes now being retooled for edX and HarvardX, passive learning seems to have been elevated to new heights. I admire Professor Elisa New’s dedication to interacting with students outside of class and her efforts to bring poetry analysis to the world. But surely the world’s best and brightest students don’t compete mightily to get into Harvard only to become mere backdrops to Harvard’s world stage. The conundrum Professor New faced in simultaneously teaching a general education and HarvardX course is a reminder that we need a college-wide discussion of how to maintain our pedagogical values in the brave new world of online education.

Mary D. Lewis

Professor of History at Harvard

To the editor:

I was distressed by the casual contempt for the principles of the Enlightenment displayed in Sandra Y. L. Korn’s column “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom.” Korn’s ill-considered essay tries to establish that “When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue,” which appears to defend the firing or attempted firing of professors based on their writings, and argues that universities should stop professors from publishing discriminatory ideas.

Though Korn’s commitment to the welfare of oppressed groups is laudable, her support of university censorship is toxic to liberty and democracy. The modern concept of freedom of speech is based on the notion that unrestricted discussion of ideas, even false and bigoted ideas, will arrive at the truth. There are conceivable arguments against this notion, but Korn makes none of them; she further asks us to take on faith that her particular views of what constitutes “oppression” are worthy criteria for censorship.

The arrogance of this position aside, one wonders whether Korn recognizes the danger that a censor with differing views could pose not only to freedom and truth but also to her own political goals. William F. Buckley shared some of her notions that “academic freedom” was used as a fig leaf for the advocacy of dangerous ideas in his book “God and Man at Yale.” But for Buckley, “dangerous ideas” included atheism and the economic theory of John Maynard Keynes.

A world where freedom of speech is subject to administrative censorship and the heckler's veto is one in which neither I nor Korn would want to live. Threatening the livelihoods of professors who investigate controversial subjects is an affront to liberty.

Connor M. Harris '16

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