Gardner Comments on Harvard’s Rescission of Admission

In early June 2017, Harvard College rescinded the admission of at least 10 students who would have been members of the Class of 2021 in response to extremely offensive memes that these individuals had shared in a Facebook group.

Harvard’s actions prompted controversy; while some believed it was appropriate to punish the students, others saw the move as a potentially dangerous form of censorship of free speech.

In an article in The Boston Globe in which members of the Harvard community provided commentary, Howard Gardner stated that he hoped these young people had learned a lesson and that admission to Harvard is a privilege that comes with community standards.

Read the full article here, and we have printed below Gardner’s full statement on the issue.

As I understand it, Harvard’s decision is definitive. It is harsh, but I support the decision as reported. We certainly know that people of all ages will say terrible things, and now those messages can be widely distributed—no way to stop it.

In any community, we need to observe certain standards if that community is to thrive. Admission to Harvard College is a great privilege. I assume that, when admitted, students were told that admission could be rescinded for disreputable actions, and that is an apt description of what they have done.

The students have learned a lesson that they will never forget, and I hope it will make them better persons in the future.

No doubt present and future Harvard college students will also have learned lessons.

I don’t agree that these are issues of free speech. Prospective students are not being prosecuted. They are simply being prevented from joining a community which in my opinion they have forfeited their right to join.

There is lots of evidence that being featured and “liked” is very important for users of social media, and one way to do this is to be outlandish and attract attention among your peer group.

Also, whenever a social medium becomes widely used by older persons, younger persons move to a new and less frequented mediums. In this case, students did not resort to a new platform but instead, as I understand it, created a more private and more exclusive group, kind of a Facebook “final club,” to use the Harvard lingo. I guess now they can still have their final club, but it won’t bear the Veritas shield.

-Howard Gardner


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