Who's Bullying Who?

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>Harvard Law School dean Martha Minow is not a stereotypical bully, and her public rebuke of a law school student for expressing, in a private e-mail, a willingness to consider a distasteful hypothesis about race and intelligence is not the sort of rebuke targeted by Massachusetts's new, comprehensive anti-bullying law.  But by using her power as dean to intimidate a student into apologizing for privately entertaining an unpopular idea, Minow engaged in a form of bullying that chills dissent and creates a hostile environment for free inquiry, to which Harvard is supposedly devoted -- a form of administrative bullying more likely to be encouraged than deterred by the new Massachusetts law.
   
As the Boston Globe noted in a story (and I suggested a few weeks ago) by defining bullying broadly to include allegedly harmful, repeated gestures or remarks targeted at a particular student, on or off school grounds, in real life or cyberspace, the Commonwealth's new law of unintended consequences invites constitutional challenges from free speech advocates.  The requirement that school officials report any instance of alleged bullying practically guarantees the overreaction by risk averse administrators that my friend Harvey Silverglate predicts: "a firestorm of administrative actions against kids for saying things that are merely slightly unpleasant but do not qualify as bullying or harassment or stalking or any other such thing.''
   
If you think these predictions are hyperbolic (or insensitive) think again of the public shaming of Harvard law student Stephanie Grace (which Eugene Volokh has extensively and incisively critiqued here).  After mischaracterizing Grace's remarks, Dean Minow chastised her for violating Harvard's commitment to "preventing degradation of any individual or group, including race-based insensitivity or hostility," for "engender(ing) offense and hurt," and for speaking "irresponsibly" (never mind that she spoke privately, or that she has a right to discuss ideas that Minow considers "irresponsible"). In other words, Minow treated Grace like a bully.  Put aside, for now, the hostility to free speech and fear of speaking freely being imbibed by Harvard law students -- future judges of America.  Imagine the likely fate of a high school student who dares to express an interest in similarly offensive or taboo ideas.  Then, try imagining her expressing it twice.

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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