Monday, May 3, 2010

The Harvard E Mail Affair:Abusing the System
Mike Rappaport

I have tried to avoid commenting on this issue, but I guess I don't have the discipline.

Perhaps the most obvious thing about the affair is that Harvard and many people believe that certain "unacceptable thoughts" must be punished.  And so the law student who wrote the e mail (the author) is criticized by the Harvard Dean and her name is outed and broadcasted throughout the blogosphere in an effort to punish here.  Take a look at the blog posts that disapprove of the author's e mail: they regularly make an effort to repeat her name.

But whatever one thinks of the e mail author, let's understand that this is only a part of the incident.  We don't have all of the facts, but there is some additional information.

First, we know that the e mail was a private e mail sent to friends to clarify a previous conversation.  And we know that one of the recipients (the recipient) chose to send it to the Harvard Black Law Students Association.

Second, it has been claimed, although we don't' know for certain yet, that the conversation and the email occurred six months ago, and that the recipient chose to disclose the email because of an unrelated change in her relationship with the author.

Finally, it has been claimed that the nature of the fight involves a conflict growing out of sexual relationships.  The claim is that the recipient initially had a romantic relationship with a man, and then some time later, the author also slept with the same man.  This angered the recipient and caused her to "retaliate" by attempting to embarrass the author and possibly harm her career.

Now, I should emphasize that the "facts" in the previous three paragraphs are uncertain.  The facts in the first paragraph appear to be confirmed.  The facts in the second paragraph appear to have some support, although we don't know for sure.  The facts in the third paragraph have been alleged by commentators, who also mention the name of the recipient, but are by no means established, and may turn out to be false.

But, given these uncertainties, we can know, with a high degree of likelihood, the following.  The author did not intend her e mail to be made public.  Thus, the hurt and harm that the Dean focused upon were not the intent of the author.  Rather, they were caused by the recipient. 

We also know that the recipient has "used" the Dean and the Harvard Black Law Students Association to further her private dispute with the author.  Finally, we know that the recipient released the e mail in breach of a trust with a fellow student or friend.  The recipient knew that the author would not have sent the email if it was going to be disclosed.  The recipient breached that friendship and confidentiality to pursue a private grievance.

If the Dean was going to speak about this case, then she should not have ignored this part of the incident.  She should have criticized the recipient for causing this harm to the public and for breaching a trust as part of a private grievance. 

But the Dean ignored all of this.  I suppose it was not part of the "narrative."  The personal is not political, except if it is necessary to make a political point.  The perpetrator of the e mail could not herself have been a victim.  To discuss this part would have made clear that the Dean was being used.  And that the Dean was concerned about "evil thoughts" rather than wrongful actions.

Update: More information has come out about the incident.  Some of the information above is supported, while other bits are still uncertain.

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Mike Rappaport


this thing just gets worse and worse

Posted by: Tom Smith | May 3, 2010 6:37:55 PM

Mike - You could also criticize the Black Law Students Association, for taking the matter to the dean. Matthew 18:15-17 taught Christians how to deal with sin: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you ... If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." Going to an authority figure is not the Christian way to deal with sin; Christians treat others as peers, not as serfs to be coerced and crushed.

It appears that everyone in this affair behaved immorally - except the one who is being criticized!

Posted by: pj | May 3, 2010 7:52:11 PM

I wish I could say that I'm surprised by how this all played out. But it's all too predictable.

Posted by: Steve | May 3, 2010 7:57:33 PM

Mike, I think the circumstances are a red herring. Had the contents of the email been more universally shocking--say, had it revealed enthusiastic support for honest-to-goodness genocide or terrorism--I doubt anyone would have the slightest interest in the process by which it was revealed. Indeed, if the email had simply contained an outright profession of belief in the intellectual inferiority of Black people, I doubt that the subsequent outrage would have drawn much controversy

What's interesting to everyone in this case is that the email expresses an ostensibly perfectly rational, intellectually unassailable view--that one cannot rule out, based on available evidence, the possibility that Blacks are genetically predisposed to have lower IQs. The outrage thus raises the question of whether Harvard, as a community, is more devoted to its political sensitivities than to the fearless pursuit of rational intellectual inquiry.

Posted by: Dan Simon | May 4, 2010 6:51:53 AM

Indeed, the poor lass is now Public Enemy #1 for the temerity to recognize the mere possibilty that the vast array of genetic differences that touch every area of our physiques might have be in some measurable way applicable to IQ. Amazing.

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