A few weeks ago, we were quoted in a “Business Insider” piece that focused on mistakes students who’ve been admitted to college make that can jeopardize their admission. The piece was published in the wake of the scandal at Harvard University in which over ten students admitted to the Harvard Class of 2021 had their offers of admission rescinded because of racist, homophobic, and/or anti-Semitic posts on a Facebook page. We applauded Harvard’s decision. After all, it took courage for the university to stand on its principles and — at the risk of bringing to light the Facebook page to the public — fire a warning shot that such comments are inexcusable and not representative of the Harvard community.
But not everybody is applauding the move. Well respected attorney and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz was quoted in a “Fox News” piece by Molly Line on the topic of the Harvard rescinded offers of admission as deeming the move by Harvard to be “draconian” and “over-punishment.” As Line writes, “‘Harvard is a private university, technically not bound by the First Amendment, but since I got to Harvard 53 years ago, Harvard has committed itself to following the First Amendment and I think this violates the spirit and the letter of the First Amendment,’ said Dershowitz. Harvard officials declined Fox News’ request for an interview, stating: ‘We do not comment publicly on the admissions status of individual applicants.’ However, the school reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission for many reasons, including student behavior that ‘brings into question their honesty, maturity, or moral character.'” They sure do reserve that right!
We wholeheartedly disagree with Professor Dershowitz. As he states, Harvard is a.) not bound to adhering the first amendment since the school is a private institution, b.) these students were not even members of the Harvard community yet — merely admitted students who had not yet matriculated, c.) the exercise of racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic language is undeserving of protection. Dershowitz correctly points out that there is no legal basis to challenge the decision of Harvard to rescind these offers of admission. In fact, the school explicitly stated as much when these students received their offers of admission. And beyond the university’s strong legal footing on the matter, they simply did the right thing.