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Free Speech Rules Approved by Council

By Joseph R. Palmore

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) moved closer yesterday to approving a set of guidelines designed to define free speech at Harvard and to prevent disruption of controversial speaking events on campus.

The guidelines, accepted by the Faculty Council yesterday after more than a year of committee work, legal review and Faculty deliberations, also include a provision which appears to allow the press to be banned from campus speaking events, whether or not they are designated as public.

Coming at a time when many universities are grappling with how to protect free speech while respecting the rights of minorities, Harvard's rules will go before the full FAS in February for almost certain approval.

The new guidelines contain a philosophical preamble which carves out an expansive interpretation of free speech on campus. But the bulk of the 12-page report describes rules for formal speaking events which are designed to allow speakers to talk while protecting a certain degree of audience protest.

The free speech report was prompted by the disruption of two campus speaking events in 1987, after which some administrators said they feared that controversial speakers would avoid engagements at Harvard.

"Free speech is uniquely important to the University because we are a community committed to reason and rational discourse," the report reads. "Free interchange of ideas is vital for our primary function of discovering and disseminating ideas through research, teaching and learning."

The guidelines explicitly avoid dealing with academic situations because "the teacher should be the one who determines the agenda of discourse in the classroom."

Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence re-affirmed Harvard's absolute commitment to free speech in the classroom in 1988, after Winthrop Professor of History Stephan A. Thernstrom was accused of giving racially insensitive lectures in a Core class.

The report also avoids laying out specific rules for free speech conflicts that may arise in informal settings, such as racist material displayed on t-shirts or written on a banner.

"It was deliberately left that way," saidProfessor of Government Joseph S. Nye, who chairedthe faculty free speech committee. "The feelingwas that it is not wise to try to legislate thehard cases in advance."

While saying that racial, sexual, or "intensepersonal" harassment can be punished under presentrules, the report says that "hard choicesregarding appropriate time, place, and mannershould have a presumption favoring free speech."

There were few surprises in the rules governingspeaking events, many of which mirrored anUndergraduate Council proposal of a year ago andLaw School guidelines handed down last year.

But one proposed guideline concerning presscoverage of speaking events provoked oppositionyesterday from representatives of the campusmedia.

"Press may be invited or excluded whether themeeting is open or closed," says the report. Thedocument defines an "open meeting" either as oneopen to the public, or as one limited to membersof the Harvard community, or to "portions thereof,unrelated to the sponsoring organization."

It is unclear whether the College plans todiscipline campus journalists who cover eventsfrom which they are excluded under the new rules.

Leaders of two undergraduate papers yesterdaysaid it was common journalistic practice for allopen meetings or speeches to be "on the record"and open to press coverage.

"It's wholly inappropriate to set aside membersof the press in a class that is distinct fromother members of the community," said KimberlyScearce '91, editor-in-chief of The HarvardIndependent.

"It is deeply disturbing that a report whichclaims to promote free speech would tolerate anysort of restriction on the media," said Colin F.Boyle '90, president of The Crimson. "How can youhave an 'open' meeting from which the press isexcluded? It's an oxymoron."

But Nye said that he did not think the rule onthe media represented "a departure in any sense"from current policy.

"I think the feeling was that the group itselfhad a right to decide whether its meeting shouldbe off-the-record or not," Nye said.

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III said thatthe College currently had no specific rulesdealing with press coverage of speaking events.

But he said there had been a "practice" oflimiting the number of non-Harvard press at somecontroversial events if administrators hadsecurity concerns.

Epps added that the College had not limited thenumber of student reporters in such situations.

Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, a memberof the committee that wrote the Law School'sguidelines, said he thought the Nye Committee'sproposed rule about media coverage of openmeetings was "very questionable."

"I think we should err always on the side ofopen access to any kind of political discussion tothe press," said Dershowitz, who had not read theFaculty of Arts and Sciences report

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