Since I began my tenure as Editor In Chief of The Harbus, each week’s edition has raised concern from at least one important constituent. Editorially speaking, it is nearly impossible to please everyone with every issue, yet I am never happy when an edition raises concern for someone.
Responding seriously and sincerely to those concerns is a regular part of my job for which I am happy to take responsibility. All of our constituents – readers, writers, editors, advertisers, the faculty and administration – are integral to the success of our editorial mission.
Therefore, the unusual outpouring of concern from readers last week regarding the article entitled “Sharon vs. Arafat” gave me considerable pause. I am grateful to everyone who spoke with me personally and wrote me e-mails detailing their objections and criticism of both the piece and my decision to publish it. A representative letter of the handful of those I received appears in this week’s Viewpoints section. Two full rebuttals to the original article itself appear in this week’s Worldly Views section.
It became clear to me last week from the concerns that were voiced that I need to clarify and reiterate the editorial purpose and philosophy that informs my decision-making about publishing submissions.
First and foremost, The Harbus is an open forum for the exchange of ideas. On the issue of “balance,” I do not believe that every issue and article must achieve a perfect ideological balance, but rather balance can be achieved over time by maintaining an open discussion forum with each issue. As you will see this week, there is a clear and opposite response to last week’s article concerning Israel and U.S. policy. Over two editions, readers see a rich and passionate exchange about critical events shaping the world in which we seek to lead.
This philosophy is consistent with the HBS learning model, in which we are encouraged, for the sake of deeply exploring important issues, to stake out clear positions and then to respond to others’ positions in kind. Such a process allows for a more robust discussion and richer learning opportunity than if each article or issue were always perfectly calibrated to achieve an equal balance.
A few people suggested that a strong viewpoint should be balanced by a counterpoint in the same edition. However, this is logistically infeasible and would dampen the richness of overall discussion. For example, last week, I would not have known to contact an excellent writer featured this week, Jacques Stambouli, who responded of his own accord with a submission of exceptional depth and value, beyond that which I could have solicited last week.
Second, as regular readers have noticed, I am not opposed to publishing strong or unorthodox viewpoints or contentious news articles, especially because The Harbus is an open forum for free discussion. In recent issues, The Harbus has carried articles about alleged human rights abuses by Enron in India, controversial blood donor guidelines by the American Red Cross, the relative merits of the cold call, the disparaging public remarks of an alumnus who blamed HBS for the Enron collapse, the failure of governance in Africa, the racial tensions at HBS in the 1960s, the failure of the accounting profession, the shortcomings of specific course units, and the state of community standards on campus.
Sometimes critical issues worthy of consideration can be uncomfortable, but discomfort is no reason to sweep them under the rug, especially when bringing them to light can add exponential value to the learning experience for us all.
I take censorship very, very seriously, particularly in this environment of the world’s brightest intellectuals with the capacity to read skeptically and be properly informed about a host of issues that stretch beyond casework. Some believe I should not have published last week’s article, but I see no grounds on which I could have reasonably censored the piece, just as I have not censored this week’s rebuttals.
Last week’s article, though contentious, did not lodge disparaging remarks at any person in the HBS community, nor any group in the HBS community – consistent with classroom discussion norms. It was undoubtedly a stinging critique of U.S. policy and Prime Minister Sharon, and the author drew debatable conclusions, but foreign policy and national leaders are fair subjects for strong criticism in a free and open press such as ours.
As Editor, I would hope that someone with clearly opposing views to a contentious piece would enrich the overall discussion by submitting another article that refutes or further develops the issues presented. That is exactly what has happened in this edition, and I think you will find that the sum of the entire discussion is a passionate and deeply enriching read that will broaden the overall understanding of a wide audience of readers.
This process may not always be comfortable, but little about the HBS experience is. The greater purpose is to grow, learn, and be transformed. As University Professor Michael Porter remarked at the launch of the Service Fellows Program, the role of the modern business leader has changed; the lines between business and the rest of the world have quickly blurred. To become effective leaders, we must grow our capacity to reflect on the full array of critical events taking place in the world and the myriad views surrounding them.
In that vein, The Harbus will continue to provide an open forum for the free exchange of ideas – please participate. The reason there is no disclaimer that a writer’s views are exclusively her or his own is because that should be understood. There is no dividing line between a contributing writer and you, the reader. The Harbus is a community medium. The readers, the writers, the editors – we are all of one community.
And as far as I’m concerned, if someone has been deemed worthy to hold a seat in Aldrich, that person surely has a right to express a view in the pages of The Harbus. And that person’s colleagues surely have a right to respond in kind. That’s the epitome of the HBS learning model. It’s why The Harbus is here. It’s why all of us are here.