"…Harvard Law School does not yet understand that students learn not only from classroom lectures and published books but also from the rules they must live by everyday." It's Not Justice Holmes' Harvard Anymore

A committee at the law school that produced such champions of the First Amendment as Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Louis D. Brandeis, and William J. Brennan, Jr., announced plans Monday to draft a speech code that would ban offensive and harassing language and punish professors and students who violate the rules.

Apparently, the world-class faculty of the Harvard Law School does not yet understand that students learn not only from classroom lectures and published books but also from the rules they must live by everyday.

There is no particular constitutional concern raised by Harvard, a private university, restricting free speech. After all, the First Amendment only requires that government "shall make no law."

Nevertheless, banning disfavored speech in the halls of the "oldest continuously operating law school in the United States" and certainly one of the most prestigious reflects a blatant lack of respect for the principle of free expression and an overt hostility toward free and open debate.

Moreover, one has to wonder what speech can or should be off-limits in an open, robust intellectual community where ideas are supposed to be discussed, debated, and cultivated.

The newly-created Committee on Healthy Diversity proposed the speech code as a means to soothe racial tensions at the law school. Evidently, tensions flared last spring after a spate of racial incidents, including a student's use of the word "nig" on a course's electronic bulletin board, a professor's defense of that student, and another professor's comment that feminism, Marxism, and black studies have "contributed nothing" to tort law.

Given this genesis, one must believe that the N-word will be at the top of speech code's black list.

That raises an interesting question since Randall L. Kennedy, author of the book "Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word," is a full professor at Harvard Law School. Is there an exemption for intellectual work? Who decides?

We stand ready to be instructed by Harvard's learned committee. Since some of them may be young, never having lived in a world without political correctness, we refer them to a 1919 article in the Harvard Law Review, authored by Zechariah Chafee, Jr., who wrote: "The true meaning of freedom of speech seems to be this. One of the most important purposes of society and government is the discovery and spread of truth on subjects of general concern. This is possible only through absolutely unlimited discussion, for… once force is thrown into the argument, it becomes a matter of chance whether it is thrown in on the false side or the true, and truth loses all its natural advantage in the contest."

Well said, worth remembering, and a timeless caveat to any who would disturb even one brick in the foundation of freedom.

Novemberm 22, 2002
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