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Lawyer and Free Speech Advocate Harvey Silverglate Stages Write-in Campaign

Harvey A. Silverglate, a 1967 graduate of Harvard Law School, is running for the Board of Overseers as an outsider candidate.
Harvey A. Silverglate, a 1967 graduate of Harvard Law School, is running for the Board of Overseers as an outsider candidate. By Courtesy of Elsa Dorfman
By Marina Qu, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvey A. Silverglate, a 1967 Harvard Law School graduate, is staging an outsider campaign for election to the Board of Overseers. His mission? Fewer administrators, more academic freedom.

Despite not being tapped by the Harvard Alumni Association as one of eight candidates to the official ballot, Silverglate staged an outsider campaign to appear on this year’s ballot.

Candidates who are not selected by the HAA can still join through a petition campaign if they receive signatures from 1 percent of the number of eligible voters in the previous year’s election by Feb. 1. In 2009, Silverglate gained enough signatures but ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Board of Overseers.

This year, Silverglate did not receive the 3,000 signatures needed to appear on the ballot. Instead, he continues his bid with a write-in campaign.

Since graduating from HLS, Silverglate has worked in criminal defense, civil liberties, and academic freedom and students’ rights cases and currently practices in an “of counsel” capacity at Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, a Boston-based law firm whose current and former clients include embattled professor John L. Comaroff, CS50 students accused of cheating, and the Fly Club.

When he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1967, Silverglate said there were “very few” administrators. He added it is “outrageous” that there are now more administrators than faculty members at Harvard.

“If you got rid of 90 percent of the administrators, which is what I’d like to do, you make college more affordable,” Silverglate said. “And more people can go without having to worry about getting scholarships, which are relatively scarce, although Harvard has more scholarships than most institutions because of its wealth.”

“It would generally improve the academic climate because you would have people who would be prepared to state their real views about things,” he added. “You would get rid of speech codes, which are the brainchild of administrators.”

Silverglate believes that Harvard currently lacks a focus on academics, and instead prioritizes “not getting in trouble.”

Silverglate’s first major case as a lawyer was representing 200 Harvard students charged with rioting in an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in 1969. The jury acquitted the charges.

“My first impression of academic administrators was that they were enemies of true teaching and true scholarship,” Silverglate said.

After publishing a book on universities censoring speech that he believes should have been protected, Silverglate said many faculty and students around the country reached out to him for help.

“We started a nonprofit to deal with it,” Silverglate said, referring to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Since the 1980s, Silverglate has held law tables at Dunster House once a semester. In 1985, he taught a class at the Law School and was offered a tenure-track position. Silverglate declined the offer because he saw that Harvard was “increasingly run by the bureaucrats.”

“​​Somebody has to say something to an audience that matters,” Silverglate said. “I’m prepared to do it because I don’t want to be invited to anybody’s cocktail parties. I’m not worried about being socially ostracized. I don’t go to parties anyway.”

Correction: March 31, 2023

A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Harvey A. Silverglate.

—Staff writer Marina Qu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MingyiQu.

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