Dear Mr. Silverglate,
In an article (http://washingtonexaminer.com/news/2011/10/goldman-execs-vt-talk-nixed-after-protest-threat) in the Washington Examiner, you offered your opinion on the recent cancellation of Goldman Sachs analyst Jeff Ares’ talk at the University of Vermont:
The cancellation drew sharp criticism from a nationally known advocate for academic freedom. Harvey Silverglate, a Boston lawyer and chairman of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said by effectively pressuring Ares to cancel the talk, the activists involved were likely involved in “a conspiracy to restrict free speech.”
As one of the Occupy Vermont participants who first alerted our community to Mr. Ares’ event, I’d like to point out that your characterization of our involvement is extremely misleading. We in no way wanted Mr. Ares to cancel his talk; indeed we were quite disappointed when he did. Our goal was to use the event as an opportunity to engage in a public discussion about Mr. Ares’ employer, which was the stated purpose of his presentation. Indeed, in our event invitation, we urged all attendees to read up on the activities of Goldman Sachs so that they might meaningfully contribute to a constructive dialog. As far as I know, no one from our movement called on his talk to be canceled; what we desired was the opportunity to offer alternative perspectives in an environment of intellectual freedom (a right that your organization purports to promote).
As such, if you’re searching for the source of the “conspiracy to restrict free speech,” you need look no further than Goldman Sachs. As the article clearly demonstrates, the talk was canceled at the request of Mr. Ares’ employer. We were hoping to have a respectful and honest conversation about the character of Goldman Sachs; the bank, on the other hand, was unwilling to answer our community’s concerns about their disturbing pattern of fraudulent business practices and corrupting influence over our country’s political process. If you want to point a finger at the enemies of free speech, the culprit is Goldman Sachs, not the Occupy Vermont movement.
I can only assume that you made this error due to the fact that you were asked to comment on the situation before becoming aware of its details. Thus, in the interest of both the truth and your reputation as a “nationally known advocate for academic freedom,” I urge you to issue a public retraction of your previous implication of our movement. Above all else, we are committed to creating a space where all voices can be heard, and immensely value dialog and debate. Goldman Sachs’ actions in this situation clearly indicate that they do not share our respect for these values, and, if anyone is to be condemned in this situation, it should be them.
Response by Mr. Silverglate:
The article to which you refer quoted me only partially, and the effect was to take my remarks, and my views, out of context. What I told the reporter – and this is settled First Amendment law – is that demonstrators who disrupt a speech so that others are unable to hear are in violation of the law. The First Amendment, I said, protects the right of the speaker to speak and to be heard, and the right of protesters to be heard – but only in a manner and at a length so that the protestors do not make it impossible for the speaker to speak and to be heard. If demonstrators get together with an aim to drown out the speaker, they are in a conspiracy to restrict free speech. On the other hand, if the speaker fails to show up because he does not want to confront those who disagree with him, that is the fault of the speaker, not of the audience.
I’m more than a bit upset that my views got mangled in the article. It teaches me a lesson I have learned before and should have remembered – respond to questions on a “breaking story” via email, in order to minimize the impact of being quoted out of context. Even an email may be edited in such a way so as to change the meaning of the statement, but the chances of this happening diminish when one puts it into writing.
I am as near to a free speech absolutist as one can be, as you will see if you check the articles linked from my website http://www.harveysilverglate.com. See, especially, my free speech columns done for The Boston Phoenix http://www.thephoenix.com, one of the nation’s premier alternative weeklies.
Thanks for writing and alerting me to this problem. I hope I’ve responded to your concern (and to mine).
Harvey A. Silverglate
Attorney-at-law & Writer
607 Franklin Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
Tel. (617) 661-9156
Fax (617) 492-4925
Of counsel to:
Zalkind, Rodriguez, Lunt & Duncan, LLP
65A Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02110
Tel. (617) 742-6020
Fax (617) 742-3269
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
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