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December 13, 2007

Tufts Likes Free Speech, Sort Of...

Consider the unbelievable obtuseness of Lawrence Bacow, president of Tufts University. Bacow talks endlessly about how he and Tufts revere the principle of free speech. Last spring someone at Tufts apparently induced New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his commencement speech, to congratulate the university for its fierce protection of free expression. Yet that protection is somewhere between tepid and imaginary at Tufts. The university is one of only three American campuses on the red-alert list of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for violating the principle of free speech. FIRE president Greg Lukianoff writes: "Red Alert is limited to those especially intransigent schools that have seriously wronged students, have not backed down, and seem an on-going threat in the future. Most other schools back down or get beaten."

The issue is the university's finding that the student journal The Primary Source was guilty of harassment and the creation of a hostile environment for publishing two political satires, one a parody of Islamic Awareness Week, the other a mock carol headlined "O Come All Ye Black Folk." To its credit, Tufts rescinded its punishment of the students involved, but it has refused to rescind the finding of hostile environment harassment. In response to FIRE's latest letter to Tufts, President Bacow once again dodged the issue of rescinding the harassment finding. Numerous times, he wrote to Lukianoff, "I have said that the appropriate response to offensive speech is more speech..." Another appropriate response is not to label free speech as harassment because it hurts the feelings of a protected group.

Bacow can be reached at bacow@tufts.edu

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