US civil liberties group cautions Harvard on action against Swamy

July 30th, 2011 - 12:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 30 (IANS) As the controversy over an article written by Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy snowballed, a US civil liberties group cautioned Harvard University on taking action against its Summer School instructor.

Swamy, who earned his PhD from Harvard in 1965, penned an op-ed published July 16 in Mumbai’s DNA newspaper that advocated denial of voting rights to non-Hindus with the goal of stemming terrorist attacks in India.

Following the publication of the article, several Harvard affiliates circulated a petition calling on the university to end its ties with Swamy. The petition has gathered 312 signatures to date and in a statement, the dean of the Summer School said that the school “will give this matter our serious attention”.

But in a letter to University President Drew G. Faust, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a civil liberties group with a focus on academia, said the group is “concerned about the threat to freedom of expression” that may come about from that attention.

“The threat of a disciplinary investigation of Swamy stands in sharp and unflattering contrast to this admirable and appropriate understanding of the importance of freedom of expression in the academic community,” Adam H. Kissel ‘94, vice president of programmes at FIRE, wrote in the letter as cited by Harvard Crimson, the university newsletter.

Harvard has not explicitly said that it is investigating Swamy or that it has considered such an investigation.

Kissel wrote that an investigation of Swamy’s article would go against Harvard’s commitment to free speech, as outlined in the “Free Speech Guidelines” adopted by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1990.

“If members of the Harvard community are given to understand that Harvard might begin an investigation-with possible disciplinary consequences-of the views they express, they likely will self-censor,” he wrote. “This is precisely the result that a university dedicated to intellectual freedom must seek to avoid.”

“Harvard must honour its own promises,” he told the Crimson in a phone interview.

“Students have every right to protest for or against ideas in article, as does Harvard, but Harvard may not investigate or punish the expression.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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