Harvard’s Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman created a stir with a “kindness pledge”, which directed incoming students to sign a promise to “act with integrity, respect, and industry, and…civility.” The pledge was universally derided and then rescinded.

According to Harvey Silverglate, co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and his associate, Juliana DeVries, Harvard’s self-appointed Dean of Political Correctness is taking a new route to impose “civility”:

“We did not have [freshmen] sign pledges, but we pushed every bit as hard on how important it was to consider their growth on all fronts,” Dean Dingman told the Harvard Crimson, which reports that required “sensitivity training” was added to Harvard’s freshman orientation program for the class of 2016. As part of this programming, proctors instructed students to perform skits, such as one where a religious roommate put a cross in a common area or where a wealthy roommate bought something expensive that other roommates could not afford to chip in for. “This way,” Dean Dingman said, “students learn how to have a conversation where someone doesn’t feel marginalized.” If Harvard freshmen aren’t able, without pressure and imposed guidance from the dean, to get through a conversation without “marginalizing” someone, age eighteen is likely too late to begin teaching them empathy….

Now, there’s nothing wrong, of course, with the notion that it’s – um – nice when human beings are nice to one another. But the Harvard dean’s concept goes well beyond his merely expressing his desire that niceness should win out over nastiness in the typical Harvard freshman’s daily interactions with schoolmates. For one thing, his use of the word “marginalized” indicates that what he really has in mind is the post-modernist notion that special attention should be paid when addressing members of what are known in academia as “historically disadvantaged” groups. It is a kind of differential treatment for such students, where care is taken to avoid saying anything too disturbing, even if the speaker wholly believes what he or she is saying and even if the “marginalized” students themselves would rather not be treated like delicate flowers. Freshman orientation becomes yet another area of academic life where deans can exert pressure for special treatment of certain student groups, all in the name of achieving a kind of faux equality.And there’s something else wrong with Dean Dingman’s initiation of kindness education in the form of sensitivity training – it’s intrusion into the right of private conscience.

Harvard’s student newspaper, “The Crimson”, reported that the sensitivity training was “well received” — after only interviewing one freshman. Silverglate and DeVries note:

The bizarre antics taking place at one of the nation’s leading elite universities thus not only patronize some of our most promising young adults; they also disrespect students’ freedom of conscience by telling them what to believe on debatable issues and call into question the university’s commitment to vigorous, open inquiry. As Adam Kissel put it in an article for Minding the Campus, “It’s backwards to teach freshmen an official line on morality rather than to help them inquire about what is just.”