Harvard Law School
To the Editor:
In his article, “’Human Rights’ at Harvard Law School” [September], Daniel Benson criticizes Dean Albert Sacks for acquiescing in what amounted to an attempt to abridge my freedom of speech. It is true that there was an attempt to abridge my freedom of speech, but it is not true that Dean Sacks acquiesced in it. The facts are as follows: when I learned that the Third World conference had decided to bestow “guest of honor” status on a representative of the Libyan government, I called two of my friends who had been invited to speak at the conference (Jack Greenberg and Nancy Gertner) and asked them whether they were aware of the honoring of the Libyan; they both said they were not. I urged them both to come to the conference, to give their speeches, but to dissociate themselves publicly from the honoring of a representative of that repressive, anti-Jewish, and terrorist regime. They both came to the conference and gave their speeches. I also circulated a petition among my faculty colleagues calling for public dissociation from the honoring of the Libyan.
These actions on my part led one student organizer of the conference to spread the canard that I had tried to persuade invited guests to stay away from the conference. Several student organizers of the conference also complained to Dean Sacks about me, alleging that I had improperly interfered with a student function. Dean Sacks assures me that he immediately told the students that I was well within my rights, even if I had urged people to stay away. He also told them that he would communicate their complaint to me (as is his policy with all such complaints). In communicating their complaint to me, Sacks reiterated his support of my right to say what I pleased about events such as the Third World conference. I assured him that I would do so, and told him that if there were any repetition of the kind of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel conference that occurred last year, I would surely speak out against it in unequivocal terms.
There was an attempt by the organizers of the Third World Conference to abridge my free speech. There were also attempts to abridge the free speech of the students critical of the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel line taken by several of the speakers (and applauded by a great many others). But neither Dean Sacks nor Dean Young were in any way complicitous in these attempts.
Alan M. Dershowitz
Harvard Law School
Daniel Benson writes:
My purpose in relating the story of Dean Sacks’s meeting with the student organizers was not to claim that the dean agreed with or necessarily acceded to the substance of their complaints. Rather, the point was to show that he failed to repudiate unequivocally the entirely improper attempt by the student organizers to abridge Alan M. Dershowitz’s freedom of speech. This failure to object to the attempt itself was fully consistent with the law-school administration’s general reaction to the events surrounding the Third World conference. The student organizers themselves made no mention in their reports of the meeting that Dean Sacks had informed them that Mr. Dershowitz had been well within his rights in protesting the honoring of the Libyan. Instead, they viewed his promise to convey their complaints to Mr. Dershowitz as a positive response to their efforts—which, in effect, it was. Dean Sacks’s policy of communicating student complaints to professors may be appropriate in some contexts but in this one it was decidedly inappropriate. By acquiescing in the attempt to intimidate Mr. Dershowitz, Dean Sacks supplied additional evidence to the student organizers of the Third World conference that they were not regarded by the law-school administration as responsible for the offensive implications of their own words and actions.
Finally, although Assistant Dean Young can be faulted for his response to other aspects of the conference controversy, I did not state or imply in my article that he was in any way involved in the particular events here under discussion.