This commentary originally appeared in Forbes on October 23, 2014.
In age when ideology increasingly trumps the impartial quest for truth on our college campuses, 28 Harvard University law professors are to be commended, for—to borrow William F. Buckley, Jr.’s famous phrase—“stand[ing] athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”
Harvard’s motto is Veritas, Latin for “Truth.” Given its high visibility, Harvard habitually takes a good deal of flak from higher-education reformers—for valuing faculty publications more highly than teaching, for political correctness, and for rampant grade inflation, among other practices. Such critiques are demanded by a true survey of the detrimental example Harvard sets for all the little would-be-Harvard institutions who look up to it for guidance. But the same insistence on the truth should compel us to praise those Law School faculty members who are demonstrating that they possess the intellects to understand and the moral courage to “stand athwart” the totalitarian-tending project of radical feminism, as embodied in the university’s new “Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment Policy” announced in July.
Last week, these 28 law professors—among them, Alan Dershowitz and Charles Ogletree—penned an open letter to the Harvard administration castigating it for imposing a sexual harassment policy that “will do more harm than good.” The letter could not be more pointed. It blames the new policy for violating “many of the most basic principles we teach,” among which are “due process of law, the substantive law governing discrimination and violence, appropriate decision-making, and the rule of law generally.”
Harvard’s administration, these law professors charge, has adopted “procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct which lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.” Among the violations they find in the new policy are an inadequate “opportunity to discover the facts charged and to confront witnesses”; the “lodging of the functions of investigation, prosecution, fact-finding, and appellate review in one office,” which is “itself a Title IX compliance office rather than an entity” that might be “considered structurally impartial”; and the “failure to ensure adequate representation for the accused.”
Moreover, Harvard, they charge, has wrongly “expanded the scope of forbidden conduct” in a manner that “goes significantly beyond Title IX and Title VII law,” setting in place “starkly one-sided” rules that fail to address “unfortunate situations involving extreme use and abuse of alcohol and drugs by our students.” The War on Young Men that the new policy embodies is one of the more curious results of the Sexual Liberation movement launched on campuses in the ‘60s. Until that time, universities took seriously their role ofin loco parentis (Latin for “in the place of a parent”). This meant curfews, single-sex dorms, prohibitions on alcohol consumption, and the like. All that fell by the cultural wayside in the ‘60s with the rise of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, which have come to be viewed almost as inalienable rights.
But when you put young men and women together, and add alcohol and drugs, sex is going to happen, and—surprise—it is not always going to proceed according to Marquess of Queensberry rules. In response to this dilemma, in loco parentis on campuses has now given way to in loco tyrannicus—to vague dictates regarding sexual conduct that are enforced in an oppressive manner on those already presumed guilty. If the ideologues of the ‘60s “liberated” the sexual passions, today’s feminist ideologues on campus have forged new fetters from principles antithetical to individual liberty and due process of law.
As a parting shot—and a stinging one, at that—the law professors appear to unload on Harvard president Drew Faust, who boasts that the new sexual harassment policies “will significantly enhance Harvard’s ability to address these incidents when they occur.” The law professors see through this façade, raising the age-old legal question of cui bono—“Who benefits?” “We recognize,” they conclude, “that large amounts of federal funding may ultimately be at stake.” That is, Harvard and other universities may be rushing to institute these illiberal policies in order to satisfy—and thus continue to receive federal funding from—the Obama administration, with its equally illiberal sexual-harassment agenda, as announced in the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” memo. The law professors find themselves forced to remind their university’s president of the ultimate price of her Faustian bargain: “Harvard University is positioned as well as any academic institution in the country to stand up for principle in the face of funding threats. The issues at stake are vitally important to our students, faculties, and entire community.”
In all, the letter provides a model defense of the rule of law, on which individual liberty relies. The letter also provides a model of academic dialogue. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle sets the tone for what academic discourse should look like at the very moment that he disagreed fundamentally with Plato: “Dear is Plato,” writes Aristotle of his teacher, “but dearer still is the truth.” In an age when postmodern critiques of the very possibility of objective truth abound in academia, it is more than encouraging to see these members of Harvard’s law faculty take what some suspect is the minority position at too many elite colleges—namely, that freedom under law is what distinguishes civilization from barbarism, even and especially when the barbarians are convinced of their high-mindedness.