When Concordia Liberal Arts College in Canada invited Harvard Government Professor Harvey C. Mansfield ’53 to speak at its 40th anniversary gala this May, an unexpected wave of condemnations allegedly prompted administrators to subsequently disinvite him due to his self-declared “conservative” views on gender and sexuality. The move has sparked public controversy, not least from Mansfield himself.
Mansfield’s disinvitation, while from another institution, presents an opportunity for Harvard to meditate on how it goes about providing platforms for different speakers and how those choices reflect the sentiments of its community. We strongly support students and other affiliates holding their universities accountable for inviting speakers that reflect the values of their community. We extend this support to our peers at Concordia.
Mansfield has had a well known legacy of defending controversial views, such as through supporting a Colorado state amendment preventing protected status based on sexual orientation, and writing an op-ed arguing that the prevalence of “rape culture” on college campuses is actually a “hook-up culture” stemming from a lack of “feminine modesty.” As our Board opined over two decades ago, and as we still believe today, comments along these lines — be they racialized, gendered, or homophobic — are heinous and do not reflect the values of the wider Harvard community. While Mansfield has been invited to speak at prestigious events since then, such as delivering the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 2007 Jefferson Lecture, we must recognize that autonomous institutions are entitled to unique evaluations of a speaker’s merit in the particular context of their community. Just as Mansfield’s personal views do not preclude him from scholarship, nor should the backlash from his public and political stances be shielded by academic clout.
Mansfield claims roughly a dozen Concordia alumni approached members of the faculty to voice concerns about his historical stances on women and people who identify as BGLTQ — opinions which he described as “conservative” but “nothing outlandish.” While Mansfield has every right to write about his perspectives in his books and op-eds, he should be cognizant about how these views are generally rebuffed by academia. Moreover, he should not necessarily conflate all of his views with conservatism at large, which encompasses a multifaceted spectrum of beliefs and values.
Visiting speakers are a vital part of the discourse we belief makes our community so powerful, but so too are responses and protests. Just as we affirm the right of everyone to make themselves heard, we affirm the right of institutions and their constituent community members to choose what sorts of perspectives they wish to give audience to. In our own campus’s moment of increased student activism, students should continue to voice their opinions on the merits of these speakers.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.