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An unfortunate trend appears to be sweeping the United States of America these days: a complete disregard for civil liberties. Whether it's this summer's anti-terrorism bill, or the Justice Department's pursuit of increased phone-tapping capabilities, the rights of Americans are being thrown right out the window.
Now, this wave of invasive, restrictive government has swept up on the shores of fair Harvard. Though previous incidents of reprimand for published work (a Crimson editorialist condemned the Peninsula for its recent publication of an "enemies list") have all been private, the administration has recently joined the fray.
With the Ad Boarding, and subsequent probation, of William L. Kirtley '97 (who is no doubt a Crimson editor) for his beloved FM column, "Prank Files," all members of the press at Harvard should take notice. They, too, could be punished for what they write.
Kirtley notes in his editorial ("The Ad Board Is Composed of Humorless Bureaucrats," October 21, 1996) that the Ad Board considered it "dishonest of [him] to represent [him] self as a Harvard first-year in need." Perhaps it was dishonest of him to pretend to be a first-year in need, but in need of what? He would need nothing but a reality check, as are all who have lost sleep over the past month at Harvard's 'fall from grace.' Kirtley had a legitimate target--not Room 13, which no doubt provides a necessary service to the College community, but those who are afraid everything here is "third-best!"
And what about the Lampoon, which last year published a full spoof of the Indy; is that not dishonesty? Why wasn't the entire organization taken to the Ad Board? Was it because they had a certain tradition or tenure with the community? It can't be because the 'Poon is exceptionally funny. Additionally, if distaste is legitimate grounds for probation, why not expel the entire staff of the Demon, whose scatological and sexual humor must irk at least the most prudish amongst us; surely they would find it "socially unacceptable."
They were never punished, because there was no grounds for it. As Kirtley points out, we have something referred to as "freedom of the press." If he can really be faced with a requirement to withdraw for publishing another column in an incorporated newspaper that is independent of the University not infringing his, and the paper's rights? Whether or not he, or his column, is funny, or whether the College likes it, should not matter. The Supreme Court found a long time ago that as long as what one says does not jeopardize the national security, one may say (or publish) it. So what if someone at the BSC didn't like the article or the fact that they had been targeted by the pranksters at the FM before? That is not an excuse to put Kirtley on probation, standing on the edge of a requirement to withdraw. Admonish him, if one must, but do not punish him, and do not restrict the freedom of the press.
I hope that the students of the College recognize this action for what it is, and I hope that the Ad Board, or the Faculty, will see fit to lessen the punishment handed down to Kirtley, while halting their ill-conceived attempt to limit the freedom of the press. --Thomas J. Kelleher III '99
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