I’ve written often that college students need to hear more, not fewer controversial points of view, that they need to learn how to function in the marketplace of ideas. That’s what college is all about and how kids grow from being part of vigorous debate among the student body. Students shouldn’t be protected by trigger warnings or shielded from exposure to diverse political ideologies. But that rationale does not mean that Harvard University was wrong when it rescinded admission to at least ten high school graduates for highly offensive behavior on Facebook.
All accepted students are put on notice that the University reserves the right to rescind the privilege if a student demonstrates behavior that “brings into question their honesty, maturity or moral character.” Making jokes about the Holocaust and child abuse, suicide and minorities, as described in the Harvard Crimson, is surely behavior that reflects on their maturity or moral character. Whatever were they thinking?
Despite the contention of some (including my friend Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi) that the University is denying those students’ First Amendment rights, there is absolutely no reason they should be allowed to matriculate. They are still free to exercise their First Amendment rights; they just can’t do it to extremes that violate guidelines for being accepted into the class of 2021. There is no Constitutional right to attend “fair Harvard” and “to thy Jubilee throng.”
A college or university has the right to set thresholds of behavior for those whom it invites to join its community, and what a student does online is part of who he or she is. Ugly memes are part of the applicant’s persona and “paperwork.” Colleges and universities, parents and teachers, deliver that message all the time.
Unfortunately for the punished applicants, they have learned Lesson One the hard way, but it is surely a lesson they will never forget.