Jasmine M. Green ’24 didn’t realize how much the events had affected her, until one day, she began to cry as she sat in front of her computer.
“Not only did David Kane say these things,” she says, “but nobody cared about it.”
Green, a Crimson Editorial editor, was in her first year at the College, taking classes over Zoom due to the pandemic and inhabiting Harvard’s campus, which was occupied only by fellow freshmen, at its most quiet and desolate. Even the few people on campus felt largely out of reach due to the University’s strict residential guidelines.
And then, in late September 2020, things took a turn for the worse. Green, like many of her classmates in preceptor David D. Kane’s course Government 50: “Data,” found themselves in a miasma of hurt and confusion.
Classmates began to send messages in the Gov 50 Slack channel about a website called “EphBlog,” a blog ostensibly documenting the goings-on of Williams College. Sent in the Slack were links to a number of posts by “David Dudley Field ’25,” which some students allege is a pseudonym used by Kane — some content posted with the David Dudley Field ’25 account name are also signed with the name ‘David Kane’ in the text of the post. While Kane founded and moderated EphBlog and certainly authored some of the posts with the David Dudley Field ’25 account name, we cannot distinguish which of the Dudley Field posts were authored by Kane or by other EphBlog contributors.
One post authored by David Dudley Field ’25 defends the white supremacist group, Identity Evropa; another post criticizes “Black supremacy" in the NBA; according to a screenshot shared in the Slack, one post claims that “90%+ of the Black students at Williams would not have been admitted were it not for their Black’ness”; and one post contains graphs ‘Field’ made comparing the SAT scores of Black and Asian students.
The revelation of Kane’s racist beliefs was followed by written responses from Kane himself and Government department administrators. In the Gov 50 Slack channel,, Kane defended himself against the allegations, claiming that he does not support white supremacy and that Slack is “probably not the best place for this conversation.” A few days later, he followed up with an email sent to the entire class with advice for what students should do if they wanted to drop Gov 50, including instructions for switching into Government 51: “Data Analysis and Politics.”
“I thought that was the most evasive way of defending yourself,” Green says. “He didn’t say if it was true, he didn’t say if it wasn’t true, he really just said, ‘If you want to switch, go ahead.’”
After the initial discourse in the Slack, 25 members of the Gov 50 teaching staff signed a Slack message condemning the EphBlog posts and expressing support for students. On Sept. 27, 2020, Jeffry A. Frieden, the chair of the Government Department, sent an email to the students of Gov 50. The message notified students that the Add/Drop fee would be waived if they choose to switch out of Gov 50 and condemned the teaching staff for allegedly encouraging students to boycott class, calling their behavior “inappropriate” and “unprofessional.” In the email, he did not remark on Kane’s blog.
The discovery of Kane’s involvement with the racist blog and the effect it had on students is indicative of the perils of allowing academic freedom to spill over into hate speech: On EphBlog, ‘Field’ would often make charts and graphs to legitimate his racist claims.
“What really hurt me the most, that I’m still not over, is that the same programming language that he taught the class in, he used in order to make plots and charts to defend his racist claims,” Green says. “I knew I couldn’t trust him to teach me anymore if he’s literally manipulating data in order to advance his bigoted views.”
Kane declined to comment for this article.
Kane’s one-year contract was not renewed by the Government Department this year, as it has been for the past two years. Still, it seems that the harm and controversy that characterized Gov 50 last semester might have been avoided by Harvard. Kane’s ownership of Ephblog, as well as other instances of his racist beliefs, including public op-eds he has authored, are easily found on the Internet. This begs the question: How did Kane find a home at Harvard, and what were the consequences?
Before Kane’s blog was discovered by students in his class in the fall 2020 semester, things were going well for the recent hire. His class was increasingly popular among undergraduates. In 2018, Kane told The Harvard Gazette that his course would have no lectures, would lay the groundwork for any career, and would “be the most intellectually stimulating experience that you’ve had.”
Similarly, in the syllabus for the course, Kane promised Gov 50 would be less akin to a college course and more a transformative life experience, even an epic: “You are Ulysses. Thrinacia is a desirable internship/job next summer. The Sirens are the many distractions of the modern world. I am the rope,” he said, referring to an 1891 oil painting of a scene from The Odyssey. With the image pasted onto the first page of the syllabus, the class’ central metaphor depicts Ulysses on the way to Thrinacia tied to the mast of his ship, to avoid being lured to his death by Sirens.
He kept his promise to never keep students a minute late, but in order to ensure this, three students in Gov 50 last semester said that Kane sped through each class at a frenetic pace, making it difficult for many to keep track of what was going on. The whole class, according to some students, seemed to be marked by a feverish intensity. Kane would cold call students and would single out students who showed up to Zoom lectures late — in the end, there were indeed lectures in Gov 50 — or had their cameras off.
Gov 50 falls within a certain genre of Harvard course, slotted among classes like Humanities 10 — a selective survey of the Western canon in which freshmen get to work one-on-one with senior faculty — and Computer Science 50, which, among other things, offers students a weekly buffet at Changsho Restaurant and t-shirts that read “I TOOK CS50,” a not-so-subtle brag that one survived the trenches. These are prestige courses, classes which serve, it sometimes seems, as primarily a means of claiming belonging to a part of campus life: once you have finished taking Hum 10, you are added to a mailing list for other “Hum Alums.” The classes instill a sense of pride and ownership over Harvard’s academic life.
What’s distinct about Gov 50 is how quickly Kane elevated his course to such a status. CS50 was founded by David J. Malan ’99, who’s been written about in The New Yorker and whose approach to teaching computer science has generated satellite courses throughout the world. Hum 10 was founded by tenured professors in various humanities departments. Gov 50, on the other hand, ascended quickly and was the brainchild of Kane alone.
And then, just as suddenly, in Kane’s third year at Harvard, students were unenrolling from his course with urgency, sparked by a series of allegations of racism.
Earlier that fall, Kane invited Charles A. Murray ’65 to speak to Gov 50 students about his new book “Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class,” which contests the ideas that race and gender are social constructs and that class is often a product of privilege. Murray is infamous for his 1994 book “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” in which he argues that there are IQ differences between white and Black people and that those differences are innate and intractable. He argues that such genetic differences are the root of social inequality. Scholars have overwhelmingly discredited the book for its dubious “scientific” claims. Murray has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist. This past October, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay told The Crimson that Murray’s work does not have academic merit.
The invite drew criticism from many members of the University and many students in Kane’s class. Kane defended his actions in a September email to The Crimson, writing, “Harvard is the greatest university in the world. Whatever you think about the quality of his work, Charles Murray is one of the most influential social scientists of the last 50 years.” He added: “In the age of Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán and Jair Bolsonaro, Harvard needs more speakers from the right, not fewer.”
Unsettled by Kane’s invitation to Murray, Alexis Queen ’23, a student in Gov 50, began to scrutinize Kane’s own beliefs. If he was open to Murray, what other ideas might Kane be amenable to? That’s when, with a simple Google search, Queen stumbled upon the link to a website called “EphBlog.”
The subsequent outcry over EphBlog led to Kane’s removal as the nominal Course Head of Gov 50. On Oct. 5, Professor Kosuke Imai took over as the official course head and Kane stopped lecturing for one week. While Imai remained the official course head, Kane returned to lecturing. His lectures were made optional, and students were permitted to attend a lecture with a teaching fellow instead.
Dash Chin ’23, a student who opted to remain in Gov 50, says most students went to lectures with their TF, but Kane still had a presence in the class, communicating via email and posting messages in the Slack channel.
As Kane settled back into Gov 50, Green and dozens of her peers switched into Gov 51. Still, for many, the racist content they had read on EphBlog lingered.
“My first month at Harvard, I was told by my teacher that I don’t belong here, and that will stick with me,” Green says.
Before coming to Harvard for his PhD, Kane was heavily involved in campus life as a student at Williams College. A flip through the Williams 1988 yearbook presents a picture of Kane as a bold, energetic, somewhat eccentric Economics and Philosophy major. In addition to reviving a winter term Jitterbugging class, he is credited with reviving the tradition of yearbook signing at the Senior-Faculty picnic, and he played for the Men’s Squash Team.
On a page in the yearbook titled “Race Relations,” Kane is quoted stating: “Affirmative Action is a liberal euphemism for reverse discimination.” The quote comes from an op-ed Kane wrote for Williams’ student newspaper, The Record, in February of his senior year. The headline read “School’s policy of affirmative action is discriminatory,” and Kane opened with the disclaimer: “WARNING: The opinions expressed in this article will probably be called racist. Most, if not all, of them are also true. Since Williams trains us to believe the truth and not to believe anything that anyone has ever called racist, some students may want to preserve their liberal sensibilities by not reading further. You have been warned.”
At Williams, Kane stood out as a conservative voice. “Most college campuses tend to be more on the left side, and Williams was no exception,” says Paul D. Danielson, Kane’s classmate at Williams. “It was a pretty liberal campus, so if you’re sitting around and someone says a liberal political statement, he’d be the one to disagree with that.”
Upon graduating, Kane joined the Marine Corps, where he served as an oOfficer until 1991. Danielson remembers the summer before his senior year, when Kane was enrolled in the officer candidate school, looking out the window of his dorm to see Kane running past, training tirelessly.
“At that time, there were very few liberal members of the student body planning a career in the military,” Danielson says, “so it sort of fit with my impression of David as a whole.”
After serving in the military, Kane started a degree at the Harvard Kennedy School, from which he graduated in 1998 with a PhD in Political Economy and Government.
During his time at HKS, Kane served as a tutor in Eliot House for four years. In a picture published in 2018 by the Harvard Gazette, Kane stands mid-lecture, smiling in front of a map of Boston — on his white short sleeve t-shirt is the Eliot House crest, with the year “1997” below it.
Before his last year at HKS in 1997, he and his wife, Kay Kane, were told by Eliot House co-masters Stephen A. Mitchell and Kristine Forsgard that they were not renewing their contract. He saw his firing as an abuse of power and sent a “vitriolic eight-page email,” according to a Crimson story from the time, to over 200 residents of Eliot House. In the letter, he calls Mitchell a “two-faced liar” and says that Forsgard has “shut-the-hell-up dagger eyes.”
A few years later, Kane was hired by Harvard as a guest lecturer in Government 1000: “Quantitative Methods for Political Science I” for the 2002 fall term. The next year, he founded EphBlog.
In the years since, Kane has lived a double life of sorts: He founded a hedge fund, Kane Capital Management in 2004, which he ran until 2010, while also teaching courses at Middlebury, Williams, and Harvard — all while attending to the blog around once a week.
On Williams’ campus, EphBlog wasn’t a secret at all. In fact, EphBlog was well known at Williams, as was the fact that Kane was the blog’s founder and frequent contributor. The blog was popular and celebrated on campus among those who agreed with its claims, and even those who rejected its ideas were drawn to it for its shock value. In fact, in 2019, a spinoff “EphBlogBlog” popped up, often criticizing the EphBlog’s posts or providing a more liberal point of view on the Williams issues EphBlog discusses.
“I wouldn’t call it a secret at all,” says Nigel Jaffe, a senior at Williams and an executive editor for The Record, Williams’s student newspaper. “Most students would have heard about it by their senior year, and most faculty are aware [of it].”
Jaffe noted that, for Williams students, Kane is synonymous with EphBlog. Because of the numerous posts by David Dudley Field ’25 on EphBlog that are signed “David Kane ’88,” posts that promote Kane’s classes, and include pictures of him,” Jaffe says there is no doubt among Williams students that Kane is running not only EphBlog, but also the David Dudley Field ’25 account.
“A lot of people would be like, ‘This is fucking crazy, look at this,’” Jaffe says. “You would be hard-pressed to find anybody who wouldn’t call the blog insane.”
Many of the posts on EphBlog are unambiguously racist, sexist, and homophobic. On the blog, ‘Field’ claimed that there is no need for Williams to have a Women’s Center, noted that, during the author’s time at Williams, he was “widely known as the campus homophobe,” wrote that “‘Sexism in the elite workplace’ is 95% fantasy” and about his distaste for what he calls “crackpot feminist quackery,” made a defense for Williams students who used homophobic slurs, proposed Willams professors should come together to discuss racial differences in IQ, claimed that the reason Williams has had fewer female students as commencement day speakers was because of the biological differences between men and women, challenges the notion that Japanese internment was immoral while linking articles in defense of racial profiling, and says that xenophobia isn’t nessesarily a bad thing.
But the most common posts from ‘Field’ are those about the admissions process at Williams, particularly the ways he believes it is biased by race. “Legacy status does not provide a meaningful advantage in admissions to elite colleges like Williams,” ‘Field’ wrote. Many of his posts are about what he calls “The Parable of the Privilege Pill,” in which he concludes that “the source of academic ability is irrelevant,” meaning that the way socioeconomic factors — namely, the advantages of wealthy students — influence one’s academic performance shouldn’t be considered by an admissions committee.
Kane has written openly, using his own name, about the admissions process outside of EphBlog as well. In a September 2017 op-ed for The Record, Kane argued that Williams should accept fewer applicants of color, or those from low-income backgrounds “in order to create a Williams with students as smart as those at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford.”
For 17 years, Kane tended weekly to EphBlog. “Senior administrators at Williams have remarked that the only thing that could make him take it down would be the threat to his career,” Jaffe says.
On EphBlog, ‘Field’ endorsed ideas based on dubious data and disputed scientific research. In one post from 2005, he refers to himself as a “Duesberg man,” meaning someone who subscribes to Peter Duesberg’s false claim that AIDS is caused not by HIV, but by recreational drug use. In another, he raises doubts about the legitimacy of global warming concerns: “The silliness over global warming among very smart Ephs never ceases to amaze me,” he wrote. “Evidence for rising sea levels couldn’t be very good since so many people lived in places, like Naples, that would be flooded.” He continues, “Anyone who is certain that they know what sea levels are going to be in 20 years is an idiot. Think Deeper.” Upwards of 97 percent of scientists agree that Earth’s climate is warming, according to NASA.
For some of Kane’s Gov 50 students, Kane’s questionable use of data became a concern when deciding whether to drop the class.
“I was primarily concerned that the material I was being given was being colored by Kane’s views, and there was no way to separate that material from his personal beliefs,” Daniel P. Pinckney ’24 says of his decision to drop Kane’s class. “I was concerned that if I had remained in the class that I would have been exposed to those views in a subconscious way where I didn’t have as much control over making sure that it was an objective or balanced point of view.”
Pinckney noted that he also had doubts about Kane’s ability to judge objective data after he invited Murray to speak as an “expert,” given that Murray’s views have been deemed pseudoscience by many scholars.
And yet, if anything, the denouncement of Murray’s work has only served Murray’s endeavors to mythologize himself as a besieged intellectual who refuses to be silenced, a crusader for academic freedom, and a brave, if misunderstood, truth-teller.
Academic freedom and free speech are often used interchangeably, the former being viewed as a subset of the latter. The debate on academic freedom is complex, bound up in the repression and censorship of academics, particularly Black radicals and leftists, during the time of Mccarthyism.
“I grew up around people who had really, really terrible experiences in the late 40s and 50s,” says Government Department chair Frieden. “Tens of thousands of people in that period — professors and teachers and graduate students — had their lives ruined because they were communists, had been communists, or said they had been communists or people said they were communists. Looking back historically, one of the reasons that the experience was so terrible was because too many universities and school boards were not willing to defend people with unpopular political opinions.”
“We don't sanction instructors for their political views,” he continued. We don’t ask potential instructors what their political views are. we don’t look at their social media accounts to see what they’ve posted. I would consider it unethical to do that.”
Many scholars and policymakers have weighed in on the debate in the past years. They have voiced concerns over professors making unsubstantiated claims, particularly so-called conservative intellectuals like Murray using their ensconced positions to advance racism, sexim, and homophobia under the guise of legitimate academic inquiry. Many of them have argued that academic freedom should be not a limited, but rather a conditioned form of free speech.
Yale Law School professor Robert C. Post, in a 2016 speech at Columbia Law School, said that “academic freedom rests on the notion that, as best we can determine, there are true ideas and false ideas.” His argument is a genealogical one, tracing the two separate lineages of academic freedom and the First Amendment.
The crux of his speech rests in the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, which defines academic freedom as upholding “not the absolute freedom of utterance of the individual scholar, but the absolute freedom of thought, of inquiry, of discussion and of teaching, of the academic profession.” Professors are free to make academic arguments, but any argument must be made “by a scholar's method and held in a scholar's spirit.” In other words, professors are to be held to a higher standard than the average American because their words are taken that much more seriously.
Post’s argument is a soundbite from the thorny landscape of free speech debates that have riddled headlines and spread across campuses in the past decade. A significant number of those headlines have included Murray’s name.
In March of 2017, hundreds of students at Middlebury College protested a talk by Murray given at the request of a conservative student group. The protests turned violent, a fact many publications, including The New York Times and The Atlantic, made central in their reporting. The Times article also cited “an open letter to the college from more than 450 alumni objecting to Mr. Murray’s presence on campus,” which claimed the issue was “not a matter of free speech” and that Murray’s views “were offensive and based on shoddy scholarship and that they should not be legitimized.”
The following fall, Murray showed up in Cambridge at the request of a Harvard student organization called Open Campus Initiative that sought to “test” the limits of free speech. Protests ensued.
At a faculty event aimed at countering Murray’s talk, History and African and African American Studies professor Walter Johnson said that, “The question of free speech on campus is defined as more-or-less equivalent to the question of the rights of white men and conservatives to disrespect, insult, bait, and degrade everyone else.” Murray, far from being silenced, gave his talk largely unimpeded; after protesters left the room, he chuckled, “This is way better than Middlebury.”
EphBlog itself is largely a reaction to what Kane sees as the stifling of free speech at Williams. Several of posts on EphBlog double as defenses of Williams students who have found themselves in trouble for using racial and homophobic slurs and other hate speech. Jaffe says that sometimes current students post “who feel like they’ve been alienated by the liberal climate at Williams.” He added that he believes many of these people are “soapboxers who believe that they’re being silenced even as they continue to soapbox.”
More than 100 pages deep into the EphBlog archives, there’s a post from Field dated Sept. 29, 2004, in which, among other musings on free speech, Field writes, “You have a right to free speech — meaning the government should leave you alone.” But he continues, “You do not have a right to free speech — meaning that your employer needs to keep sending you a paycheck no matter how offensive/idiotic you are — in the workplace.”
The statement reads as a somewhat less sophisticated version of Post’s argument. And yet, for Kane and Murray and others, the converse of Post’s academic freedom argument is often what ends up being practiced by the universities and think tanks that employ them. Rather than their status as professors holding them to higher standards of what is permissible for them to say, their status as professors gives Murray and Kane license to categorize much of what they say as academic inquiry. Their status also legitimates what they say: For those academics who have made a name for themselves, their authority establishes the facts when it should be the other way around.
“If there were a clear line that could be drawn [between legitimate political views and hate speech], the courts would have found it,” Frieden says.
In a 2019 interview with The Crimson, Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana voiced concern over students protesting controversial speakers: “The way change happens in society is that people have to hear voices. They have to be able to argue points of view and be able to persuade,” Khurana said. “It's not only a part of our College’s mission, but I think it's really important for democratic society right now.”
Kane taught a class this past semester, Government 1005: “Big Data.”
In an email to Gov 50 students obtained by The Crimson that was sent at the end of the fall 2020 semester, Kane congratulated the students: “Despite some occasional . . . uh . . . hiccups in the course, you have all worked very hard.”
Chin was struck by what he read as Kane’s snarky tone. “There’s a saying, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,’ which I think was very much his attitude when people were wanting to switch classes,” Chin says. “He was so smug, and over time it just got boring, like, we get it — you’re not going to face any consequences.”
Kane is not the first Government department faculty member to evade public consequences. Between the 1980s and 2018, Government Professor Jorge I. Dominguez was able to evade responsibility and punishment for an entirely different set of harmful actions — not hate speech, but allegations of sexual harassment.
In the spring of 2018, The Chronicle of Higher Education published two articles in which 18 women came forward with allegations of repeated sexual harassment against Dominguez. A few days later, in response, then-Government department chair Jennifer L. Hochschild announced a conference in which Government department faculty would come together to discuss how to “better promote and sustain a safe and respectful community.”
The allegations that came against Dominguez in 2018 were by no means a surprise. Harvard had been privy to allegations of Dominguez’s inappropriate behavior at least since 1983, when Assistant Professor Terry Karl and a Government graduate student accused the professor of multiple acts of sexual harassment. Dominguez was temporarily removed from his administrative roles — and just his administrative roles — for a short period of time but, just two years later, Dominguez returned, chairing two academic committees.
Michael P. Adams ’83, a thesis advisee of Dominguez’s in the 80s, told The Crimson in 2018 that “If Harvard had dealt with this appropriately in 1983, 1984, none of those other women would have been harassed.”
Following the resurfacing of allegations against Dominguez in 2018, the Government department formed the Committee on Climate Change to investigate and improve the climate of the department that protected and promoted Dominguez. A subcommittee on “recruitment and retention” analyzed trends in the racial and gender makeup of the faculty over the years, and the report that was published recommended that FAS Dean Gay authorize two faculty searches for new hires in the Government department: one whose focus is in gender politics, and one who focuses on race and ethnicity.
That spring, after the Climate Change committee was formed, the Government department also hired Kane.
With a promise to create a safe community within the Government department, and online information about how Kane’s appointment might be at odds with that promise, how was Kane hired?
According to Frieden, when hiring new faculty, the Government department looks only at the professional record of the candidates rather than posts on social media or personal opinions unrelated to their teaching.
“Current policy issues are, in my view, extraneous to whether the individual is suitable in the classroom environment,” Frieden says. In considering candidates, the Government department looks for a history of instruction in the classroom, reads teaching evaluations, and recommendation letters.
“We are trying to hire the most diverse and the most excellent staff that we can,” Frieden says.
Many students, teaching fellows, and course assistants from Gov 50 declined interview requests for this article. Many explained that they found the events too painful.
Similarly, Jaffe told us that, at Williams, “For some people their association with EphBlog is quite traumatic because Kane has targeted them on it.”
Today, students at Harvard — in particular, Black, queer, and woman-identifying students who had their education interrupted when they abruptly fled Gov 50 last semester — are facing similar pain.
“I don’t even think David Kane knows how much he hurt his former students,” Green says. “Students who were so excited to enter this world and were met immediately with this racist wall that made them doubt themselves, their place at Harvard, and their ability to pursue their career.”
Ultimately, Green finds fault with the Government department’s response to the events of last fall.
“We still have these scars from this event,” she says. “And they act like it doesn’t matter.”
— Magazine writer Sarah W. Faber can be reached at email@example.com.
—Magazine writer Paul G. Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.