Lawrence Bacow, president of Harvard, issued a statement Feb. 28 condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine on behalf of the university. It decried the “deplorable actions of Vladmir Putin ” and asserted that Harvard has an obligation to speak out because “institutions devoted to the perpetuation of democratic ideas and to the articulation of human rights have a responsibility to condemn such wanton aggression.”
It seems hard to disagree, but I do. I’m no fan of Mr. Putin, and I certainly don’t want Russia to swallow Ukraine. I disagree because it is antithetical to the mission of a university to take a position on the war—even if everyone on campus opposes it.
To understand why, go back to 1966, when the U.S. government revised its rules about the military draft. College students had been generally exempt. But in need of more bodies, the government asked universities for the names of students in the bottom half of the class to make them eligible for conscription. At the University of Chicago, students rebelled. In May 1966, almost 500 students shut down the administrative building for several days to protest the policy. This raised the question of what position, if any, the university should take on the war in Vietnam.
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