"Tempers Stirred By Harvard Cartoon" + "Editor Resigns Over Cartoon"
No, it wasn't one of my cartoons. And no, it wasn't the editor of The Harvard Crimson who resigned, but the editor of the Harvard Business School's weekly paper The Harbus, Nick Will. But the story is worth hearing nevertheless.
Now, as a college newspaper cartoonist last spring, I made a vow not to do what I saw as fluffy student life cartoons--cartoons about how rough exam period is, cartoons about dining hall food, cartoons about dating life at Harvard or the lack thereof, and so on. Honestly, Harvard students occasionally having to eat a slightly less than stellar meal now and then just doesn't rate on my personal cartooning crisis meter compared to, say police brutality, global warming, or impending war with Iraq. The only Harvard-related cartoons I've done were one on Harvard president Larry Summers' treatment of Cornel West and the general lack of faculty diversity, and this cheerful cartoon for the commencement issue.
So I was surprised to learn that all the hoopla was indeed over a student life cartoon. As I gather it, Harvard Business School students have been frustrated lately with a buggy career offices computer system which has resulted in some of them missing interviews with various corporate recruiters. (Apparently they are also under pressure from the fact that many HBS alumni were the number-one culprits in the Enron scandal and others, but let's put that aside for the moment). So a student cartoonist decided to express his fellow student's frustration. According to the Crimson ("Editor Resigns Over Cartoon"):
The editorial cartoon mocked the persistent bugs that have plagued Career Link—the server that students use to post resumes and sign up for job interviews. It depicted a computer screen cluttered with pop-up announcements—a spoof of the messages Career Link sends out to students when they attempt to post resumes on the overcrowded server. Most of the announcements were lighthearted messages, such as “Please attach three random documents to sign up for interviews.” Some were more caustic in tone: “Career Services absolves itself of any and all responsibility for the functionality of Career Link despite the fact we selected the vendor."
The words “incompetent morons,” which appear in one of the pop-up windows, provoked administrative response when HBS Career Service Officer Matthew S. Merrick told senior administrators that he felt offended by the phrase, according to HBS Senior Associate Dean Walter C. Kester.
The administrative response, apparently, was to call a meeting with the newspaper's editor and issue a "verbal warning":
According to Will’s resignation letter, Nelson warned him at the meeting that he “could be called in for further action in the future which could register on [his] personal student record.”
The administration claims, of course, that they have no intention of restricting free speech:
“I think that the University should have no control over what The Harbus prints. We support freedom of expression and free inquiry,” Clark said. But according to Will’s letter, this was not the view Nelson expressed in their meeting. “He suggested I steer clear of all questionable content in further issues,” Will wrote.
All I can say to that is... whoa. But wait, it gets better:
According to Will’s letter, Nelson also criticized The Harbus’s photo coverage in the meeting and suggested that The Harbus should provide writers with the opportunity to enhance the image of Career Services in future issues. The deans complained that the cartoon violated HBS Community Standards, which stipulate that HBS community members must have “respect for the rights, differences and dignity of others.” “We do not want students to engage in discourse that hurts others,” Clark said.
An awfully broad declaration--leaving the definitions of "hurt" and "others" open to question. And asking a newspaper to write articles "enhancing the image of Career Services" is flat-out ridiculous. As the editor wrote in his resignation:
“Invoking Community Standards to supersede editorial judgment and issue personal threats against those involved in the paper is in my personal view as unreasonable a posture for the administration as it is an unsustainable one.”
Um, yeah. Fluffy topic or not, this was a ridiculous reaction to a cartoon well within the bounds of satire (even by definitions far too narrow for my taste as a card-carrying member of the ACLU). If you like, you can read more about this case in the Globe ("Tempers stirred by Harvard cartoon").