But I think the notion that the President couldn't stop being critical, once she got started, is wrong. In another post I have already addressed the notions (a) that there is absolutely nothing a Harvard professor could say that would earn the slightest expression of regret from the University, and (b) that because gray exists one can never call black what it is. Yes, criticizing professors requires judgment and good taste and an ability to draw reasoned distinctions--and a willingness to defend yourself if you make a questionable judgment about whom to criticize for what. Do we think our leaders lack that kind of discretion?
In fairness to Professor Miron, he's right--at least that Porter might not be the only one who could come in for criticism. Indeed, the first that might have to be addressed is his economist colleague Professor Shleifer, whom I mentioned in my question, about whom the University has also remained resolutely silent. In fact, the President may well be following the Shleifer precedent.
And the President surely wants to avoid having the University dragged into politics, with lame faculty debates on whether the US should withdraw from Iraq or back the Palestinians, etc. But that sort of debate and posturing was always silly--those are not Harvard issues.
What might be nice is for the president, or somebody else who speaks for Harvard, to say that Harvard stands for democracy rather than tyranny, and that they are two different things. She might say, for example, that Professor Porter's description of the Gaddafi government as a democracy "does not reflect the views of the school or the overwhelming majority of the members of this community."
Of course, President Faust would first have to seek copyright clearance from Dean Minow to use that particular phrase, since that is the language with which Minow publicly scolded, or whipped as you prefer, a first-year law student for stating, in a private email to a few fellow students, that she did not "rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent." Dean Minow said that her public statement was needed to underscore the Law School's devotion to "intellectual inquiry and social justice." Let's stipulate that this public statement was appropriate. Why wouldn't what applied to the law student apply equally to Professor Porter? I can think of several possibilities, none very palatable.
- Deans do this sort of thing but Presidents don't, even to University Professors, who report directly to the President. No Harvard official can say anything critical of a such a Harvard high priest; scoldings are for the little people.
- Students have less immunity from criticism for what they say than Professors, or at least University Professors.
- Whether Libya is a democracy or a dictatorship is not a social justice issue in Harvard's use of that term, in spite of our having a Human Rights Committee, a Human Rights Project, a Human Rights Program or two, and so on. We like these things when we are fighting for them abroad; but we would never suggest that one of our own was undermining human rights.