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Harvard Professor’s Op-Ed Sparks Free Speech Debate

Subramanian Swamy gestures to the media as he enters the Indian Parliament in 2010. (AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)

Subramanian Swamy gestures to the media as he enters the Indian Parliament in 2010. (AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)

For 10 years, Subramanian Swamy taught an economics course at Harvard University’s summer school. Swamy earned his own Ph.D. in economics from Harvard, and he went on to become a prominent politician in India, leading – as he still does – the country’s Janata Party.

And for a decade, his political views didn’t seem to matter to anyone at Harvard. Until this summer, when Swamy wrote a fiery op-ed in the Daily News & Analysis of India calling for a particularly Hindu solution to wiping out Islamic terrorism. Annex parts of Bangladesh, he wrote. Prohibit conversion from Hinduism to any other religion. Mandate learning Sanskrit.

(The op-ed was subsequently removed from the paper’s website. A link to a version of the op-ed has been reposted here.)

The op-ed didn’t sit well with several students who called for his ouster. Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, issued a statement supporting Swamy’s right to free speech, and the matter seemed settled. Until last month, when a group of faculty effectively fired Swamy, without notifying him, by voting to remove his courses from the summer school catalog.

The move has ignited an even larger controversy at Harvard – one that pits extreme expression against academic freedom. Moreover, it has raised the question: Just how broad a universe of ideas should be welcomed at a university?

Guests:

  • Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion and Indian studies, Harvard Divinity School
  • Harry Lewis, professor of computer science, Harvard University
  • Subramanian Swamy, head of India’s Janata Party; former economics instructor at Harvard University’s Summer School

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