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09 December 2011

Swamy preaches tolerance after Harvard drops him

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By Charu Sudan Kasturi

New York: Harvard University has dumped former union minister and Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy from its 2012 summer school faculty after protests from teachers and students over an allegedly anti-Muslim opinion article Swamy wrote for an Indian newspaper earlier this year. "Harvard has established a principal that the person teaching there is accountable to whatever he writes elsewhere is a not good for them," Swamy said reacting to the university's action.

Only dangerous thing Harvard has done is to make their professors responsible for what they write anywhere in the world, he added.

"Harvard has been inviting me over the years to teach. It is upto Harvard to decide what to do," Swamy said.

So can India take action against Harvard professors who teach in India and criticise Hindu fanatism, he asked.

A senior Harvard administrator and faculty members who participated in the meeting where Swamy's courses were dropped, confirmed to HT that the decision followed weeks of heated debate on the campus.

"The debate was, putting it simply, over whether Swamy's views constituted political speech protected under the values of the freedom of speech that all academics hold dear, or whether they represented an incitement to violence," said a senior professor in the university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences who participated in the December 6 meeting.

"And we concluded that it did incite violence."

Swamy, an economist who obtained his PhD from Harvard in 1965, has regularly been teaching two courses, Quantitative Methods in Economics and Business and Economic Development in India and South Asia for Harvard Summer School.

After the serial blasts in Mumbai on July 13 this year, Swamy wrote a controversial opinion piece in a daily in which he effectively proposed disenfranchisement for Muslims who did not "proudly acknowledge that their ancestors were Hindus."

Harvard students upset over the article petitioned the university to sever ties with Swamy. But in August, the university publicly dismissed the demands, arguing that Swamy's views represented political opinion protected under the ideals of freedom of speech.

But the final decision on the course list for the Summer School is taken by the faculty. When it met on December 6, it found Swamy's courses included by the university among the programs suggested for the 2012 Summer School.

At the meeting, Diana Eck, a comparative religion professor, demanded that the courses be dropped, and cited a letter she and 39 other faculty members had written to Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust.

"Notwithstanding our commitment to the robust exchange of ideas, Swamy's op-ed clearly crosses the line into incitement by demonizing an entire religious community, demanding their disenfranchisement and calling for violence against their places of worship," the letter said.

Eck was supported by most other professors, with only a few opposing, in the vote - Harvard never discloses specifics of a split vote.

The decision comes weeks ahead of a planned visit to India by Faust to woo the Indian higher education market.

(Courtesy: Hindustan Times)

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