Harvard professor says military members keep service quiet to avoid backlash from classmates
A Harvard professor warned Thursday that service members feel hesitant to disclose their military status to their classmates, bolstering the institution’s “abysmal” free speech ranking recently handed over by a First Amendment nonprofit.
“I’ve had military veterans that are enrolled here at Harvard College tell me that they think it’s better if they don’t tell their classmates or their faculty members before that they are members of the military,” Kit Parker, a bioengineering professor, told “Fox & Friends First.”
“Obviously, it’s impacting the way we design and deliver courses to our students. I think it’s up to the faculty member ultimately as to how much risk they want to assume when they teach a course, or they make a public statement.”
Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a group supporting free speech and religious liberty, recently gave Harvard an “Abysmal” speech climate rating with, in the group’s words, a “generous” 0.00 score.
“[The] actual score is -10.69,” FIRE said.
Parker, meanwhile, said some students are concerned about speaking out in class and feeling others’ wrath on social media later, while adding that, despite the ranking, conditions at the university “ultimately support free speech or academic freedom” and it’s up to faculty members to decide if they want to take the risk of exercising that freedom.
“Academic freedom is one of the most important supporting values of the pursuit of excellence. If you think about colleges, the goal here is not really a state of accomplishment when you go to college, as indicated by a diploma. It’s about a state of mind that’s demonstrated by an openness to novel ideas and their supporting arguments,” said Parker, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who served in Afghanistan.
“And this is important because civil debate and rigorous study are required to transition anybody, any student, from being merely a consumer of ideas to being a producer or an actual creator of ideas, so it’s critically important.”
The free speech issue is notoriously widespread beyond Harvard, however.
More than half of college students (56%) worried their reputation could be damaged because someone misinterpreted what they said or did, according to FIRE’s report. Over a quarter (26%) reported they feel pressured to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes,” and “Twenty percent reported that they often self-censor.”
“It boils down to leadership. It boils down to the president,” Parker said of the campus climate. With Harvard recently acquiring a new president, he said he is “very hopeful” going forward.
“If you take a look at a university or college, it’s got a problem with academic freedom. More than likely they have a leadership problem, and that’s not the only problem on that campus,” he added.
Ranking at the bottom portion of FIRE’s list with Harvard were the University of Pennsylvania, the University of South Carolina, Georgetown University and Fordham University.
Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University and Florida State University comprised the top five.
Fox News reached out to Harvard for comment on the FIRE study’s findings, but did not receive a response.
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Fox News’ Jeffrey Clark contributed to this report.