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A Conservative's Speech Code for Harvard Law School
December 1, 2002

From the Boston Globe, November 20, 2002

CAMBRIDGE - A Harvard Law School committee announced plans yesterday to draft a speech code that would ban harassing, offensive language from the classroom…a highly unusual step for a law school and a move that runs counter to a national trend against interfering with campus speech

The speech code proposal is a reaction to pressure from Harvard's Black Law Students Association to outlaw "epithets, comments, or gestures that demean on the basis of gender, race, cultural background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or handicap condition." Under the proposal, the accused would bear the burden of proof; that is, the accused would have to prove that their gesture, eye glance, comment was not demeaning. The guidelines are intended to prevent hurt feelings in the 'victim,' - sensitivity training in essence -- and thus to create a more academically fertile environment.

Well, we're not talking about a school of etiquette here. We're talking about an institution that is training a select group of potential advocates to argue in court; to bear the stress of courtroom and pre-trial rigors. Practicing law requires a thick skin and the ability to defend your position. In sum, to become insensitive in order to argue effectively.

Reading of Harvard Law School's announcement I thought it useful to provide a conservative's speech code for consideration by the newly formed Committee on Healthy Diversity. These guidelines address the problem of sensitivity while preserving the character-building training of one of America's great law schools. Here it goes, an alternative speech code, from a conservative's point of view:


Harvard Law School is committed to maintaining a learning and work environment free from demeaning verbal and other expressive behavior. The following guidelines seek delimit desired ethical standards in the interrelations among students and faculty based on commonly accepted principles of decency and respect in interpersonal relations.

By setting out these principles of decency and respect for student-faculty relations, we are addressing those who complain about epithets, comments, or gestures which they find demeaning when based on "gender, race, cultural background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or handicap condition."

These Guidelines effect no compromise of freedom of thought, inquiry, or debate They are not subject, to the criteria of what a group finds "disparaging to members of that group." Instead, they are subject to what is commonly accepted as respect. We believe that each student and faculty member is completely responsible for their behavior, including speech and gesture in and outside the classroom. And each is subject to the consequence peer pressure resulting from such behavior.

By the strict standards of admission at the Law School, we expect that each student is completely capable of establishing environments for learning and other academic performance; despite the intended or unintended consequences of the flow ideas in the classroom. The Law School will expect each faculty member to adhere pertinent Federal and State regulations regarding the creation of a hostile or intimidating, or demeaning learning environment.


1. No student, faculty member or student group will intimidate, threaten or in any way force students to profess adherence to a particular social ideology. It is the mission of the Law School to provide each student a sufficiently good education so that the student can come to his or her own conclusions about what's right and wrong in life. We believe that no one can be forced to "understand" and "respect" other people's views and choices.

2. Any faculty member who uses epithets, comments, or gestures that demean on the basis of gender, race, cultural background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or handicap condition, shall be subject to traditional faculty pressure and reprimand from the Dean. The instructor shall be subject to any and all criticism by students, student groups and news media for his behavior. Students will be free to include any criticism in class evaluations. Any student displaying such behavior may be reprimanded by the instructor. These methods have proven effective over the years in curtailing such behavior and in protecting individuals and groups experiencing such offending and hurtful language.

3. Any student who experiences discomfort from language in or outside the classroom shall be expected to defend their position or objection to the fullest. For it is the very purpose of a law school to train and graduate individuals capable of advocating for and against that which they may find at times discomforting. The properly trained law school graduate is expected to endure the discomfort and stress common in the legal profession; this may indeed include advocating and arguing positions against those they find repugnant and sometimes personally offensive.

4. Law School students and faculty in their interpersonal relations within and outside of the classroom environment will treat each other foremost as individuals; and secondarily only, as members of a particular group or groups. Achievement and the basis and measures achievement will be grounded upon the individual's performance. This applies to both the quality of a student's work and the quality of an instructor's teaching performance. No deference be given for a individual's race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or physical disabilities.

5. Notwithstanding any of the above, any language or gesture which is considered a hostile threat as defined by local, state and federal laws will be strictly prohibited and will subject the violating student or faculty member to prosecution.

In closing, we remind both student and faculty of Harvard University's enduring commitment to academic freedom, and the principles of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Many distinguished graduates of the Harvard Law School have served as jurists protecting the freedom of speech, however, unpleasant, offensive, discomforting, and disagreeable. These include from the Supreme Court of Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis to distinguished contemporaries like Alan Dershowitz, Randall Kennedy, and Laurence Tribe.

Regarding offensive speech, we concur with Noam Chomsky who said "if we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all."


Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks.  His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications.

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