There is a building campaign at Harvard to rescind the degrees of Trump officials and allies including White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Representative Dan Crenshaw (R-TX). This is not the only such effort to retaliate against Trump officials from blacklists to campaigns of harassment. Indeed, previously there was a demand for a ban on former Trump officials from being allowed on campus at Harvard. Recently Rep. Elise Stefanik was removed from a high-ranking board on Harvard for challenging the victory of President-elect Joe Biden. The concern for some of us is that the Capitol riot is now being used by many to accelerate the crackdown on free speech on our campuses.
The revocation of degrees would result in immediate and likely successful court challenges. I cannot imagine a court allowing such an action to occur on this basis.
More importantly, it is wrong. It is using academic degrees as a vehicle for political expression and retaliation. Just declaring such figures “violent actors” does not change the fact that the university would be acting in a raw political fashion. It would send the message that any degree is subject to the shifting political winds of a university and that attaining a degree remains only tentative and subject to revocation by majority demand.
The principal basis for the action is the support for the challenge to the electoral votes in Congress. This challenge was made under a federal law and has been repeatedly made by Democratic members without any such campaigns of retaliation or even recriminations. I opposed the challenge to the electoral votes from the outset and stated within a couple days of the election that there was no evidence of systemic fraud in the election. I also maintained within a couple of days that Joe Biden was our president-elect. So I fundamentally disagreed with these individuals. However, the effort to seek such retaliation is not just fueling our divisions but it is part of a widening campaign against free speech.
The petition states:
“A Harvard degree is a privilege, not a right. Harvard had no qualms about rescinding offers of admission to high school students because of racist activity online that did not reflect the University’s values. But holding teenagers accountable is easy. Harvard should have the will to hold adult insurrectionists to the same standards.”
The statement is chilling. There is a vast and obvious difference between the withdrawing of an offer of admission and the revoking of an earned degree. One is an offer of admission and the other is a vested degree. One action is prospective and the other is retroactive. The link is to the decision to rescind admission from Parkland shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv over alleged racist comments made two years previously on social media. The Harvard Crimson reports that ten such offers have been withdrawn over such social media postings.
What is most concerning is that faculty members have joined at Harvard and other schools to create blacklists and take retaliatory actions against people who were supportive or served in the Trump Administration. This effort is being spurred on by the rhetoric of figures like MSNBC’s Joy Reid who called for the “de-Ba’athification” of the Republican Party and CNN’s Don Lemon insisting that Trump voters as a group are supporters of Nazis and the KKK. This language seeks to label the votes of almost half of the electorate as virtual hate speech or extremism. The same call is now being heard on campuses for a purging of those deemed complicit in the Trump administration. That is beyond outrage. It is opportunism to use this tragedy to settle scores and purge opposing voices. The alternative is free speech. We can continue to engage each other in civil and respectful dialogue — the very antithesis of what occurred on January 6th. Universities could play a critical role in that dialogue but it will require a faith in free speech and ourselves that seems diminishing by the day.