Legal Blog Watch directs us to a profoundly stupid article:
As Silverglate relates in an article published this week in The Boston Phoenix, Harvard Law School wrestled in the early 1990s with the appropriateness of punishing students for engaging in satire and parody. At issue was a piece published in the Harvard Law Review‘s annual April Fool’s Day issue, the Harvard Law Revue, in 1992, just a year after Obama, who’d been editor of the Law Review, graduated. The Law Revue piece, which Silverglate says was scathing, parodied an article just published in the Law Review that had been written by Mary Joe Frug, a feminist law professor who had been working on the article when she was murdered outside her Cambridge apartment. The parody article provoked a firestorm on campus, resulting in the law school’s adoption of sexual harassment guidelines that Silverglate describes as an 11-page censorship code. In the "radioactive atmosphere" that permeated the campus at the time, even faculty members known for their support of free speech voted for the code, he writes.
Silverglate sees what happened at Harvard as symptomatic of a far more widespread trend to muzzle politically incorrect speech. It was a trend that began to emerge while Obama was still at Harvard and it is one, Silverglate believes, where Obama could help turn the course. "If Obama wants to be the nation’s leader, he can start leading here. He needs to leave the atmosphere of censorship at the Harvard Law School and join the ranks of free men and women."
Silverglate followed up online.
I’d say the article was merely wrong and flawed but for this nugget:
Today, the Law Review still puts out a written parody and conducts its annual dinner, while the Harvard Law School Drama Society produces an annual parody stage production. But none of the humor, especially that which is gender-related, has approached the frankness (or brutality, depending upon one’s point of view) of the Frug parody. One can argue, of course, that this is a good thing, depending upon one’s sense of the proper balance between social criticism and the need of some to be comfortable. Harvard Law, though, became undeniably less free than before the adoption of the guidelines.
Despite (or perhaps because of) this conscious effort on the Law Revue’s part to avoid controversy, its annual parody seems to become both less biting and, ironically, equally or more subject to an “insensitivity” attack every year. The same trend has affected the Drama Society. Students harshly criticized the 2006 stage parody, for example, at a tense campus forum in March of that year, citing multiple instances of negative racial stereotypes. According to the independent student-run Harvard Law Record, two suggestions for reform arose repeatedly at the forum, both of which reveal either a disdain for, or fundamental misunderstanding of, parody: “prohibiting the portrayal of actual students (and perhaps professors) altogether and implementing an opt-in/opt-out system whereby students could choose to be parodied or not.” (In other words, you can be criticized only if you want to be!)
The producers of the 2006 stage show offered a public apology to those who were offended. It was “nobody’s intention to hurt those parodied,” they said, suggesting that even the parodists had lost sight of the function traditionally performed by parody — namely, ridicule directed to the object of scorn. “The Parody plans to take consideration of all suggestions in their re-examination of the Parody going forward,” the apology stated, “and plans to address any concerns brought up by the HLS community in the future.” As for the nature of the “future,” that was also made clear: “Many students commented on the need for greater discussions on race, gender, and sexuality at HLS beyond the Parody context, and this open forum was a starting point for productive discussions to come.” Sensitivity training, in other words, rather than biting political and social parody, was in the law school’s future.
"Biting political and social parody?" Let’s not mince words: the conduct deemed acceptable (and endorsed by the administration!) at the annual Parody would get most law students expelled at their schools and get most employees fired from their workplaces, and rightfully so.
The Parody, in general, portrays women as dumb whores and minorities as dumb criminals, and then, in specific, harnesses the most embarrassing rumors about people and then creates "humor" by implying the rumors are true. That’s it. There is nothing political about the show, and it contains no social commentary: it’s harassment, pure and simple.
It’s outrageous, and it’s been outrageous for years and yet is sponsored by the administration. The "sensitivity training" Silverglate whines about was nothing more than a phony ‘apology’ by the Parody that promises nothing more than "consideration" of being respectful of classmates, the type of respect required by all law schools that actually care about creating a productive and open environment where students can express themselves.
If you’re going to claim restrictions on free speech, you’re going to have to look farther than some immature method of harassment that is sponsored by the administration and routinely used to intimidate the weaker social groups. If Silverglate’s so worried about free speech, why doesn’t he look into the treatment of, say, atheist or pro-choice or anti-war college groups in the South? The only people muzzled at Harvard Law are the women and minorities who know that, if they get too bitchy or uppity, they will become targets of abuse.