Haverford College earns disgrace as FIRE’s “speech code of the month”

July 4, 2021 • 9:30 am

Haverford College, a very ritzy school in the eponymous Pennsylvania town, is one of the wokest (or should I say “most progressive”) schools in America, and not in a good way. Last year I reported how they caved in to ludicrous student demands. Let’s reprise:

On December 5 I described the meltdown happening at ritzy Haverford College (tuition: $57,000 per year, total expenses $76,000 per year) following a police shooting of a black man in nearby Philadelphia. The students went on strike and issued a long series of demands to the College, as outlined in my article and in an informative piece in Quillette by Jonathan Kay.

What was remarkable about the Haverford protests was how readily the administration caved in to the student demands, which comprised the usual laundry list of no punishments for strikers, more money for diversity initiatives, defunding the police, changing the curriculum, the institution of pass-fail grades, the creation of ethnically segregated spaces, and getting rid of the President (he’s now resigned). It seems that the students suddenly discovered the university’s “systemic racism”, which wasn’t a problem before the shooting (see Kay’s article about the harmony that used to reign at Haverford), and used this discovery to try getting everything they wanted.

The response of Haverford administrators, who cringingly abased themselves online, was in strong contrast to the response of nearby Swarthmore College (equally ritzy), whose black President, Valerie Smith, basically told the students to bugger off and stop making anonymous demands instead of engaging in civil discourse.

And, by and large, the Haverford students won. An article at the Haverford Clerk, the College’s independent student newspaper (click on screenshot below) recounts the administration’s surrender and links to a list of the students’ demands and the administration’s item-by-item responses, with the vast majority of those responses being “yes, we will.”

See here for more. Based on the school’s speech-chilling Honor Code, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) previously rated the school “yellow”, meaning there were restrictions on free speech. Haverford is a private school, and doesn’t have to adhere to the First Amendment, but has an official Academic Freedom policy that guarantees a student’s right to “speak or write freely on any subject.”

It turns out that Haverford doesn’t really abide by that policy. As FIRE discovered, the school also has a new policy whereby “microaggressions” and disrespectful speech are violations of the Honor Code, which puts that Code at odds with school policy. Because of that, FIRE has named Haverford’s policy its “speech code of the month”, and that’s not an honor!

Click on the screenshot to read more, though I’ve summarized the salient stuff below:

Here’s a FIRE video about the new amendment:

Here’s an excerpt from Haverford’s new amendment to its Honor Code, given on the FIRE website:

The prohibition on microaggressions is far clearer in the amended version, with added text bolded:

In particular, we recognize that acts of discrimination, microaggression, and harassment, including, but not limited to, acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, tokenism, cultural insensitivity, discrimination based on citizenship status, discrimination based on religion, and discrimination based on national origin, accent, dialect, or usage of the English language are devoid of respect and therefore, by definition, violate this Code. We understand that these discriminatory acts can take many forms, and smaller acts such as microaggressions are also devoid of respect and thus violate the Code. …

We also recognize that a person’s there are a range of political opinions at Haverford College, are necessarily intertwined with their values and outlook, and thus influence their practices. These practices may violate the Honor Code. As such, Thus, we expect that when expressing or encountering others’ political beliefs, students will must be respectful of community standards as befits adherence to this Code. when expressing political opinions. As the Social Honor Code applies to all of our interactions at Haverford, engagement in political discourse falls within its jurisdiction, and political beliefs may not be used to excuse behavior that violates the Code. If we find that our political beliefs perpetuate discrimination, we are obligated to re-evaluate them as we would any of our beliefs that perpetuate discrimination. . . . 

[C]onfronted students weaponizing the Code’s expectation of respect in order to silence and/or invalidate the experiences of harmed parties—including invalidating experiences of harm by claiming discrimination against a privileged identity (e.g., claims of reverse-racism) or refusing to reflect on their actions—is a violation of the Code. Using one’s political beliefs to justify disrespectful or discriminatory words or actions is also a violation of the Code.

Microaggression is of course is a slippery concept, for not only does Haverford not even give a definition of “microaggression,” but, as FIRE says, “the addition of the language that students ‘must be respectful of community standards when expressing political opinions’ turns the Honor Code into a civility code.”  “Disrespect” and beliefs that “perpetuate discrimination”, are not forms of protected speech under the First Amendment, but are slippery. Is criticism of Israel or Palestine now a microaggression? (Even the words “dirty Jew” should be protected!). What about criticism of Black Lives Matter? The tenets of Islam or Catholicism? As we know, what constitutes “harmful” and “violent” speech has expanded beyond all reason, and Haverford’s code has expanded to include much of what we want to be protected.

Further, the body that adjudicates the school’s Honor Code violations comprises entirely students, and, as FIRE adds, “being brought before a jury of your peers to defend your protected speech is punishment in itself.” In other words, the school allows protected speech to be punished, and violates its own promise of adhering in principle to the First Amendment.

In light of this amendment, FIRE says they’re changing Haverford’s rating, once the changes are on the school’s website, to the worst category for free speech, the dreaded “red-light rating.” I wouldn’t send my kid to a $74,000/year school so they would have their speech monitored and regulated by other students.

In the meantime, at the page above (or click below), you can register a complaint with Haverford by filling in the form that goes to Haverford’s President.

12 thoughts on “Haverford College earns disgrace as FIRE’s “speech code of the month”

  1. The worst aspect of the code is that (last bolded paragraph) defending yourself and claiming that you have not violated the code is itself a violation of the code. Anyone accused is thus automatically guilty.

  2. And “refusing to reflect on their actions” is an offense, evidently punishable by a struggle session before a student star chamber. I was also struck by the presence of “cultural insensitivity” among the long list of speech offenses. The banning of irony, satire, or humor on any sacrosanct topic does not even have to be stated, it is implicit in the entire list—which will soon include “micro-cultural-insensitivity” .

    When I was an undergrad at Haverford in the 1950s—that supposedly terrifying period of conformism and “McCarthyism”—the atmosphere never remotely approached the one this list imposes. Does the
    term “Progressive” refer to the “progress” from that stage to this one? We could, I suppose, comfort ourselves with the thought that this is only a matter of bullying kids in a private college, not a system for sending anyone to a gulag. But what if the mentality behind college speech codes like this one were to achieve governmental power?

  3. I think it would have been better for everyone if Haverford had given in to the first demand, returned all land to Native nations and ceased its current educational mission.

      1. Woke Left performances generally include a gesture in the direction of the indigenous Americans (as, for example, in the Evergreen State “canoe” charade), but never, ever take the logical next step suggested by Jen above. No doubt related to the fact that no fierce, passionate American opponent of “colonialist settler states” like Israel has ever been known to donate their own home in
        America back to the local indigenous nation.

        1. I have no doubt that they would agree to returning your home or mine to some tribe or other. That sort of unrealistic optimism seems common among western socialists. They never imagine that they will themselves end up picking turnips on a collective farm, or just lined up and shot.
          They don’t imagine that their property will be seized and collectivized. And none of them have any intention at all of putting the natives back in charge. All of that rhetoric is a sales pitch, like the ecology thing. Socialist states have a horrible environmental record.
          Your choice of the word “performative” is certainly apt. They seem to almost entirely be people who have never experienced actual suffering or need, but who are each obsessed with their own personal struggle against what they imagine is oppression.

          The performative nature of their politics does not lessen the potential danger they pose. Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Engels, Trotsky, Castro and many others grew up in comfortable circumstances, yet condemned a great many others of lesser means to death or slavery for being class enemies and bourgeoisie. They had many less educated people shipped off to the camps for being intellectuals.

          Then there is that other guy, of middle class background, who had only himself to blame for his failures, and was obsessed with his “struggle”

          1. So very true! Lenin knew almost nothing of Russia or the Russian people. He was from a well off family, never travelled in Russia and left the country as a young man. He was a hypocrite, living off income from his mother’s estate while spreading his violently anti-capitalist message. He didn’t care about the Russian people one bit – they were merely pieces to be shuffled in an abstract game of politics and ideology. Just playthings. Far left leaders always seem to live very comfortably themselves. But they never shirk from imposing privations on others. It’s all in the name of freedom, of course.

            This latest generation of woke extremists would be no different if they ever got power. Let’s hope they never do!

  4. Is criticism of Israel or Palestine now a microaggression? Silly question! Criticism of Israel is a subversion of apartheid colonialist white supremacy while criticism of Palestine is violence, of course!

    Happy 4th, everyone. Enjoy your freedoms while you still have them.

  5. These micro aggressions now implanted in the Honor Code are precisely the reason why this alumnus no longer donates to Haverford

  6. I have to say, in a sense the most chilling part of the whole saga was at graduation when the president and other speakers referred to the events of last fall as proof that Haverford students have the tools to change the world. Somehow I don’t think that calling a “strike” with no demands then making up a bunch of ridiculous demands and having the administration accede anyway is a blueprint for successful real-world activism. Separately, the climate created by that strike makes the new language in the honor code more of a cherry on top than a real moment of change–another confirmation that a solid majority of students don’t really think people should be able to disagree with them.

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