Another Take on the Freshman Values Pledge

To the editors:

A former highly placed Harvard administrator has suggested that I train  train my sights on  the Freshman Dean’s kindness pledge—I teach First Amendment law and have written a book on liberty. Now to articulate why the Freshman Dean’s Kindness Pledge is both hilariously inappropriate and offensively coercive is a formidable intellectual challenge. As a character in famous novel said, “If you don’t understand it without an explanation, you won’t understand it with one.”  It is like trying to explain a joke.  It’s certainly not that the decanal heart isn’t in the right place, nor that kindness is not a surpassing value.  After all,   Dean (now Justice) Elena Kagan is justly celebrated for—among other things—making Harvard Law School a kinder, more agreeable as well as intellectually more thrilling place.  But she would no more have thought of proposing that students (and faculty—why not?) sign a kindness pledge than she would have prescribed a dress code or banned pizzas as too salty and fatty.  Ah, but that’s a law school and these are college freshman, the Taliban of 6 Prescott Street might reply. And they would have a point. It’s a matter of time and place.  There is a place for the Kindness Pledge: Harvard’s six excellent day care centers.  But the pledge does serve an educational function. It teaches incoming undergraduates that administrators can be as silly as the rest of us. And don’t forget that other pledge that is making the rounds: the Tea Party’s no new taxes pledge.

Charles Fried

Beneficial Professor of Law

Harvard Law School


1545 Massachusetts Avenue

Cambridge, MA 02138