Skip to comments.Harvard Pressures Freshmen to Sign a Moral Pledge
Posted on 09/15/2011 6:03:24 AM PDT by reaganaut1
Harvard Colleges Class of 2015 found something unprecedented awaiting their arrival on campus: an ideological pledge. It was framed as a request for allegiance to certain social and political principles. No such request had been made of Harvard students since the colleges founding by Puritans in 1636.
First-years are being pressured to sign a Freshman Pledge committing them to create a campus where the exercise of kindness holds a place on a par with intellectual attainment all in the name of upholding the values of the College including inclusiveness and civility.
The request originating from the Dean of Freshmen, in consultation with the secretary of Harvards feared disciplinary tribunal, its Administrative Board, and communicated via dormitory tutors who are the students main liaison with the administration asked that students commencing their four-year journey of intellectual and spiritual awakening take a position on social and political issues that are much debated in our contentious times. Inclusiveness and civility have become, for better or worse, buzz words among those who argue over the extent to which harsh rhetoric should be avoided in the name of providing students protection from the hurt feelings that often result from vigorous arguments.
For Harvards incoming freshmen, that debate has been decided in their absence, presented as gospel at the very start of their student experience. Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman has decreed Harvards official position and established the direction in which every students moral compass (Dingmans words) must point. Dingmans interpretation of Harvard Colleges values is intellectually and morally weak: he privileges kindness, inclusiveness, and civility, almost entirely ignoring the cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, and courage), the theological virtues (love, hope, and faith), Benjamin Franklins 13 virtues (including cleanliness, chastity, and humility), Aristotles intellectual and moral virtues, and everybody elses. In a world where there is such a difference of opinion as to what truly is virtuous and what is merely vacuous, it seems not to have occurred to Harvards Dean of Freshmen that this arena is one for a students intellectual and moral exploration, rather than a fit subject for administrative fiat.
And thus, Dingman decided to prevail on his young charges to sign their names to the pledge of their allegiance to Harvard Colleges morality, as defined by the deans office, which was to be framed and hung in the entry to each Harvard freshman residential house. There the pledge would hang all year for all to see whose signature was affixed and, in contrast, whose designated signature line remained conspicuously blank, indicating a refusal to sign onto the values that four years of education must not undo.
The profound pressure to sign was quickly noticed by Harry Lewis, a professor of computer science and former (for eight years) Dean of Harvard College, who posted the news and his commentary on his widely-read Bits and Pieces blog. Lewis noted Harvards 375-year history of freedom from oaths, quoting Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison, author of the authoritative 1935 volume The Founding of Harvard College: Our founders, Morrison warned, knew from their English experience that oaths are powerless to bind conscience.
Lewis further pointed out that Harvard President Nathan Pusey, during the difficult McCarthy red-baiting years, objected to US legislation that would have demanded that certain scholarship recipients swear to uphold the Constitution, since loyalty oaths, even ones affirming unexceptionable principles, are, as Pusey put it, Odious. Lewis concluded his critique of the new freshman oath by pointing out that a student would be breaking the pledge if she woke up one morning and decided it was more important to achieve intellectually than to be kind, noting, not so incidentally, that the faculty had not been asked to approve of such a pledge, much less urged to swear its own allegiance to this communitarian commitment.
Harvard is not entirely without blemish. It had been complicit in the Red Scare in the 1950s, moving to fire American history professor Raymond Ginger for declining to reveal whether he had been a member of the Communist Party.
While an oath of allegiance for students or faculty is unprecedented at Harvard, this was not the first time that some Harvard administrator attempted to pressure students to adhere to an official view of the good society and of the students duty to honor that view.
In 2002, the then-dean of the Harvard Business School caused the resignation of the editor of the schools newspaper, in which an editorial cartoon had dubbed those who ran the Career Services office incompetent morons due to chronic computer malfunctions. Disciplinary action was initiated, and the dean insisted that the newspaper limit itself to respectful discourse since its editors were, after all, member[s] of the Harvard Business School community, and as such, we are expected to treat each other respectfully. The dean backed down after pressure from the public and after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit that promotes academic freedom on university campuses, reminded Harvard of its role as a great liberal arts institution.
The administration of HBS thus reconciled itself to living with a free student press,but in 2010, Dean Martha Minow of the Harvard Law School issued a public reprimand to a law student who, in a private email to a group of friends that one of them leaked, expressed a desire to be provided with scientific research on the relationship, if any, between race and intelligence. Dean Minow apparently did not mind publicly excoriating a student for merely expressing academic interest in such a hot-button question. Minow stated that responsibility in a community dedicated to intellectual pursuit and social justice such as the law school does not encompass the insensitivity of making hurtful suggestions. Minow did not seek formal discipline but took care to note that the student had apologized. The student had learned her lesson: I understand why my words expressing even a doubt about the law schools orthodoxy on the issue, she wrote, were so offensive.
There have been occasional feints in the direction of pressuring students to conform to some individual administrators personal sense of the students obligation to engage in only civil discourse. But Harvard has never, until now, expected so much conformity to the colleges purportedly official position on questions which, within a university campus as well as in the society outside the ivy walls, free men and women have long been allowed, indeed encouraged, to debate. Although Dean Dingman has reversed course and announced that the pledges will be posted without the signatures, he has insisted that Harvard freshmen still need to know what Harvards moral expectations are, so as to live and speak accordingly.
The attempt to impose ones values on others, whether by mandatory ideological oaths or officially sponsored voluntary pledges, is hardly unique to Harvard; such exercise of power has proven attractive to those in positions of authority everywhere. For this reason, academic institutions have long had to take special precautions to protect academic freedom and free speech and thought.
Pressure on the University of Chicago to throw its institutional weight around on moral issues led to the 1967 Report on the Universitys Role in Political and Social Action, produced by a distinguished faculty committee chaired by professor and constitutional law scholar Harry Kalven, Jr. There is no mechanism, wrote the Committee, by which [a university] can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. Such neutrality of the university, the report opined, is rooted not in indifference and insensitivity, but rather out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. A university, in other words, is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.
And, at Yale, a 1974 report promulgated by a committee headed by Yale professor of history and legendary champion of academic freedom C. Vann Woodward stated that [t]he history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable and that [i]t may sometimes be necessary in a university for civility and mutual respect to be superseded by the need to guarantee free expression. The committee rejected the argument made by some at Yale that formal sanctions should be imposed upon those whose speech violates the social and ethical considerations entailed by a decent respect for others, stating that such censorship would make the majority, or any willful minority, the arbiters of truth for all.
Perhaps Harvards freshman dean should have consulted some of the distinguished authorities who have opined against the promulgation of orthodox, officially approved or sponsored ideological and social positions by those in power. He would have found not only the likes of Pusey, Kalven, and Woodward, but also Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who, at the height of the Second World War, led his fellow justices to invalidate a mandatory flag pledge statute in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943). If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation wrote Jackson, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith in it. Jacksons reasoning applies as well to purportedly voluntary pledges promulgated by those in positions of power over their young and vulnerable charges.
If a nation engaged in a war to save its civilization from the scourge of fascism and Nazism can abide a childs conscientious objection to pledging allegiance to its own flag, surely Harvard should not have been pressuring its freshmen to publicly sign onto a deans conception of the approved and hence official college position on such personal and philosophical values as inclusiveness, civility, and kindness. Perhaps the Dean of Freshman should even reconsider his revised plan to post the signatory-free pledge in each dorm. Professor Lewis has announced his intention to propose legislation to prevent pledges like this from being promulgated in the future. The leaders of the next generation must not be taught that virtue resides in a pledge of fidelity to the values of those who hold power over them.
If Harvard allowed each freshman to choose between the Puritan pledge and this new “tolerance” pledge, I wonder which one would be more popular.
A name appropriate to the University's positions.
oh man, that guy must have had a tough childhood!
R.I.P. Harvard, 2011.
You can get this kind of soft-headed policy at your local community college, and at a far lower tuition.
I am sure that it has all the usual suspects. Tolerance, diversity, sustainability, etc...
You forgot the quotes around “moral” in the title.
Now, just think....he could hire Anthony Weiner as an assistant....then you'd have......oh, never mind.....
Statists find that pledges can dupe the honest conservative into going along with a small lie which will be subsequently used as a precedent for pledging to a bigger lie. The Statist also seeks an innocous pledge intially so that they can change the meaning of the pledge through a twisted interpretation and a re-definition of the language. The Statist is by nature deceptive, and anyone taking a pledge must examine the conduct, values and motives of the individual or group requiring the pledge.
Don’t they already have to sign a copy of the Communist Manifesto?
I wonder if any Muslim students will sign when they find that references to being “inclusive” means affirming homosexuality.
Of course the key question is who gets to define “inclusiveness” and “civility”. I doubt it is going to be interpreted in a way your basic conservative would accept.
No kidding. You don't say.
Would “inclusiveness” include a branch of the Tea Party?
Harvard University, leading the nation in political correctness, affirmative action and general stupidity.
‘I am sure that it has all the usual suspects. Tolerance, diversity, sustainability, etc...’
Oh, you forgot the the biggie....’social justice’.
Can we get one of the freshmen to upload a PDF copy of it?
When my eldest son was in the eigth grade, the ADL had a public school program that involved children signing a pledge to political correctness. Parents shot it down.
As 106 of the first 108 schools in America were founded on Christianity, Harvard's declared purpose was: "To train a literate clergy."
Harvard college was founded in "Christi Gloriam," as the founders believed: "All knowledge without Christ was vain."
In 1692, the motto of Harvard was: "Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae" (Truth for Christ and the Church).
The word Veritas on the college seal references divine truth, and was embedded on a shield, which can be found on Memorial Church, Widener Library, and numerous Harvard Yard dorms.
The shield has on top two books facing up and on the bottom a book facing down, symbolizing the limits of reason and the need for God's revelation.
Harvard's Rules & Precepts, September 26, 1642, stated:
"1. When any Scholar...is able to make and speak true Latine in Verse and Prose....And decline perfectly the paradigims of Nounes and Verbes in the Greek tongue...(he is allowed) admission into the college.
2. Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternall life, John 17:3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him Prov. 2,3.
3. Every one shall so exercise himselfe in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in Theoreticall observations of Language and Logick, and in practicall and spirituall truths, as his Tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple, Psalm, 119:130.
4. That they eshewing all profanation of God's name, Attributes, Word, Ordinances, and times of Worship, do studie with good conscience carefully to retaine God, and the love of his truth in their mindes, else let them know, that (notwithstanding their Learning) God may give them up to strong delusions, and in the end to a reprobate minde, 2Thes. 2:11, 12. Rom. 1:28.
5. That they studiously redeeme the time; observe the generall houres...diligently attend the Lectures, without any disturbance by word or gesture....
6. None shall...frequent the company and society of such men as lead an unfit, and dissolute life. Nor shall any without his Tutors leave, or without the call of Parents or Guardians, goe abroad to other Townes.
7. Every Scholar shall be present in his Tutors chamber at the 7th houre in the morning, immediately after the sound of the Bell, at his opening the Scripture and prayer, so also at the 5th houre at night, and then give account of his owne private reading....But if any...shall absent himself from prayer or Lectures, he shall bee lyable to Admonition, if he offend above once a weeke.
8. If any Scholar shall be found to transgresse any of the Lawes of God, or the Schoole...he may bee admonished at the publick monethly Act."
In 1790, the requirements for Harvard stated:
"All persons of what degree forever residing at the College, and all undergraduates...shall constantly and seasonably attend the worship of God in the chapel, morning and evening...
All the scholars shall, at sunset in the evening preceding the Lord's Day, lay aside all their diversions and....it is enjoined upon every scholar carefully at apply himself to the duties of religion on said day."
On Election Day, May 31, 1775, Harvard President Samuel Langdon addressed the Massachusetts Provincial Congress:
"We have rebelled against God. We have lost the true spirit of Christianity, though we retain the outward profession and form of it. We have neglected and set light by the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy commands and institutions.
The worship of many is but mere compliment to the Deity, while their hearts are far from Him. By many, the Gospel is corrupted into a superficial system of moral philosophy, little better than ancient Platonism....
My brethren, let us repent and implore the divine mercy. Let us amend our ways and our doings, reform everything that has been provoking the Most High, and thus endeavor to obtain the gracious interpositions of providence for our deliverance....
May the Lord hear us in this day of trouble....We will rejoice in His salvation, and in the name of our God, we will set up our banners!...
Wherefore is all this evil upon us? Is it not because we have forsaken the Lord? Can we say we are innocent of crimes against God? No, surely it becomes us to humble ourselves under His mighty hand, that He may exalt us in due time....
My brethren, let us repent and implore the divine mercy. Let us amend our ways and our doings, reform everything that has been provoking the Most High, and thus endeavor to obtain the gracious interpositions of Providence for our deliverance....
If God be for us, who can be against us? The enemy has reproached us for calling on His name and professing our trust in Him. They have made a mock of our solemn fasts and every appearance of serious Christianity in the land....
May our land be purged from all its sins! Then the Lord will be our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble, and we will have no reason to be afraid, though thousands of enemies set themselves against us round about. May the Lord hear us in this day of trouble....We will rejoice in His salvation, and in the name of our God, we will set up our banners."