Monday, May 9, 2011

Monitor and Libya, once again

On Friday the Boston Globe reported that Monitor had decided it should have registered as a foreign lobbyist for some of its Libya work, and will do so now. The reporter contacted me for a comment, but I couldn't come up with anything newsworthy to say, since I don't know anything about the Foreign Agents Registration Act or the like. So my only presence in that story is a vague "some have called on president Drew Faust to warn professors that their outside work must adhere to standards of truthfulness," and I think that "some" would be me. That is a fair paraphrase of part of my question to the PresidentWhen the Crimson contacted me a couple of days later, I found something quotable to say, namely "It does seem to me that with all the Harvard connections that are in these news stories about Monitor, it’s time for the University to say something about it." Which seems to me the truth. How many stories have to appear in the papers about the problematic activities of how many Harvard professors before some Harvard official acknowledges that we are not proud of those activities?

The Crimson, alas, does me one better and states, "Lewis … encourag[ed] University President Drew G. Faust to publicly censure Porter." No, not "censure." Not even sure just what that would mean -- it is an official act in some institutions, and even if it is taken less literally, it sounds a lot like "censor," which I surely would not want the President to do. It just seems to me that there is something more that she could say other than that she stands for Porter's right to speak and my right to criticize what he says. Harvard itself, in her persona, could say that selling the term "democracy" to Gaddafi was inconsistent with Harvard's values. 

Other sites have started to pick up the Crimson's "censure" language, which the Crimson has not fixed though I informed the editors that this was a poor paraphrase.

I am surprised how many times I have had to explain that I do not want rules against foreign consulting, and I don't want Porter reprimanded. It does not seem that hard to me: Harvard spends so much time congratulating its members for their good works off-campus that it seems perfectly logical to note when somebody's off-campus activities do not represent Harvard at its best. Such criticism would not chill the speech of a tenured faculty member. A University Professor could take it, for sure.

I think I do understand what the President is hoping to avoid. She does not want to be dragged into any political controversies. Doubtless she fears that someone would, if she criticizes anyone for Libyan consulting, want a reprimand for somebody else's activities in Israel or Palestine. But the Libya case seems black and white to me; saying something about this would set no precedent that would require commenting on grayer issues.

Indeed, not to say something under these circumstances seems to me civic irresponsibility on Harvard's part. And what I fear is that civics have become so polluted with politics that the university has withdrawn utterly from making judgments about matters of civic importance. That surely cannot be a good thing. What peace and safety it brings us today we may pay dearly for later on.

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