But when the voice silenced was Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow, that went too far.
Perhaps the conclusion by progressive political science prof Jeffrey Sachs that the free speech crisis is over was premature?
Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf told protestors they could demonstrate but urged them to move to the back of the forum to allow audience members to see Long and Bacow.
“I understand that some of you want to make a point, and you can make that point, but I’m afraid [what] you can’t do is to hinder the ability of other people here to listen to our speakers,” Elmendorf said.
Apparently, not only could they do so, but they did. Bacow was not pleased with the climate in the room.
“First of all, I would like to tell you that Harvard has never had an experience to my knowledge in recent memory where a speaker has not been allowed to speak,” Bacow said. “I hope this will not be the first time that that happens.”
It’s curious that Bacow grounded his admonition in this “new” phenomenon at Harvard, given how many new phenomenons have been happening around the Yard these days, from the efforts to eradicate Final Clubs, because they’re exclusionary even if they’ve been a traditional part of Harvard forever, to its singular universal approach to Title IX, extending its reach worldwide to prove no woman’s feelings, no matter how unfounded their complaint, should be denied solace.
But when the passionate darlings seized the opportunity to make their point at Bacow’s expense, he suddenly grasped both the limits of appeasement and the ineffectiveness of pissing off everyone in the room.
“You can hold your signs in the back, but we’re all here to have a conversation about higher education,” Bacow said. “You’re not being helpful to your cause and I suspect you’re also not gaining many friends or many allies in the audience by virtue in the way in which you choose to express your point of view.”
Did his sudden epiphany help his students see the light?
Once Bacow had left the room, divestment protestors remained chanting “Who shut it down? We shut it down. If we don’t get it, shut it down.”
Law School student Joanna C. Anyanwu, a member of HPDC, said after the protest that the activists had succeeded in garnering the desired response from administrators.
“I mean they were obviously upset,” Anyanwu said. “And I guess I didn’t expect them to be as visibly livid. But it’s clear that we got under their skin, which is good.”
Anyanwu isn’t an overly enthusiastic undergrad, but a student at Harvard Law School. Yet this was her desired response, to “get under their skin”? Is this the way to effect change, by shouting simple-minded slogans and conclusively proving that your cause cannot prevail without silencing the decision-makers? She might not find judges to be quite so tolerant of her strenuous objections.
But shed no tears for Bacow. This is the “climate” he allowed, if not encouraged, by acquiescing to the misguided belief by his “best and brightest” that their feelings were to overwhelmingly valuable that nothing, but nothing, should prevent them from being heard, to the exclusion of all else. When you let this climate fester, feed it, enable it, empower it, do you not realize it’s going to grow into a monster that will consume your voice as well?
“Their behavior tonight does not encourage me to meet with them again,” Bacow said. “As I said, I respond to reason, not to pressure, and what we saw tonight was not reason.”
But the students weren’t seeking to “dialogue” with their university president, but to shut him down and piss him off. For a guy smart enough to be made president of Harvard University, Bacow didn’t get the message. Maybe Ronald Sullivan, or any of the male students expelled for the sake of appearing sensitive to the angry women on campus, can explain it to him. Maybe now Bacow will respond to reason, not to pressure, since it’s now his voice on the line.