Harvard columnist: 'academic justice' should trump 'academic freedom'

  • Student argues that university should oppose research that is "promoting or justifying oppression."
  • Says she would "happily organize with other feminists on campus" to stop a professor from publishing.

According to one Harvard student, the “doctrine of academic freedom” should be replaced by a standard of “academic justice.”

“If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of ‘academic freedom’?” asked Sandra Korn, a member of the class of 2014, in an editorial in the Crimson, Harvard’s official newspaper.

“When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.” - Sandra Korn   

Korn proposes instead that “[w]hen an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.”

As an example of academic justice, Korn cites the 1971 left-wing protest of Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein, who wrote an article for Atlantic Monthly endorsing the view that intelligence was hereditary.

When Herrnstein returned to campus that fall, Students for a Democratic Society protested his introductory psychology class with bullhorns and leaflets. The left-wing group even called on Harvard to fire him.

“Did SDS activists at Harvard infringe on Herrnstein’s academic freedom? The answer might be that yes, they did—but that’s not the most important question to ask,” Korn wrote.

Korn also alleges sexism on the part Harvey Mansfield, a professor in Harvard’s Government Department and someone she’d “happily organize with other feminists on campus to stop. . .from publishing further sexist commentary under the authority of a Harvard faculty position.”

“Does [he] have the legal right to publish a book in which he claims that “to resist rape a woman needs … a certain ladylike modesty?” Probably. Do I think he should do that? No,” Korn wrote.

Mansfield took issue with Korn’s characterization of his work, telling Campus Reform that the words had been taken out of context from his book Manliness.

“The passage goes: ‘To resist rape a woman needs more than martial arts and more than the police; she needs a certain ladylike modesty enabling her to take offense at unwanted encroachment. How dare you! But only a woman can be a lady, and the feminists have deconstructed 'woman' because they think it is a product fashioned by men,’ ” Mansfield wrote.

“[S]he is right that I am defending women's modesty, but wrong to leave one to suppose I believe that modesty by itself will prevent rape. She has hit the nerve of the dispute, but she hasn't accurately described my position,” he said.

The response to Korn’s editorial was largely negative. It has over 600 comments as of this writing, the majority of them lambasting her position.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter @SteveLarson

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