Nick Will (OI) resigned Wednesday as editor-in-chief of The Harbus after the Harvard Business School administration informed him that he was being held personally responsible for all content published by the newspaper. According to Will, the administration found a cartoon that the newspaper published in its October 28 issue to be inappropriate. The cartoon, “Pre Hell Week Horror Story,” depicted an “HBS Career Dink” computer meant to parody the “HBS Career Link” system.
Will said he received a verbal warning from a senior administrator during a meeting on November 4 and that it was his understanding that the warning was the first step in the Community Standards disciplinary process. HBS Community Standards sanctions range, in order of severity, from a warning (verbal or written) to probation, suspension, mandatory withdrawal, dismissal and expulsion.
“To avoid being called in again I was told I would have to steer clear of all questionable content,” Will said. “The level of personal risk is too high.
I’m very sad about it but I can’t take the risk of having every word screened by the administration. The Harbus is an open forum for student ideas but how can I as the editor make tough calls about what to print if the administration can sanction me under Community Standards whenever it disagrees? No editor could operate that way.”
The “Career Dink” cartoon depicted numerous pop-up windows with “announcements” suggesting a lack of efficiency. For example: “Please attach three random documents to sign up for interviews.” According to Will, the administrator was most upset by the phrase “incompetent morons,” which is visible in one announcement.
Will reviewed the cartoon prior to its publication. In his opinion the cartoon was an obvious form of satire. “I felt the offending phrase was sufficiently ambiguous and appealed to a clearly prevailing sentiment in the student body,” Will said. Lawyers at Hill & Barlow, which provides legal counsel to The Harbus, reviewed the cartoon after its publication and according to Will said the cartoon would be protected as free speech under the First Amendment.
“Either The Harbus is a free and independent platform for student expression or it isn’t,” Will said. “Invoking Community Standards to influence the free and independent nature of The Harbus is in my view an unreasonable posture for the administration.”
According to the HBS Community Standards statement issued in 1998, the “mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who contribute to the well-being of society. Achieving this mission requires an environment of trust and mutual respect, free expression and inquiry and a commitment to truth, excellence and lifelong learning.”
Harvard College in 1996 published a statement about freedom of the press and in it said “as far as can be determined, no student has ever been sanctioned by the [school] for printing an article or an opinion.” The statement also said, “Harvard students who are members of student organizations remain Harvard students and do not by their association with those organization become exempt from the standards of conduct expected of all students.”
According to the university’s office of the general counsel, Harvard does not have a university-wide policy concerning freedom of the student press. A spokesperson in the office said it was up to each school within the university to set its own policy. Three HBS administrators said they did not believe HBS had a specific policy about freedom of the student press.
Steve Nelson, executive director of the MBA program, said he was not at liberty to discuss private conversations between students and administrators. “Each student at HBS, regardless of his or her other commitments or responsibilities, remains a student, and as such is bound by the Community Standards that define who we are,” Nelson said. “The Harbus has played a vital role at HBS for many years, and everyone at the school fully supports its activities,” he added.
“I am disappointed Nick has chosen to step down from The Harbus,” Nelson said. “Nick has made a number of important contributions to the paper and the HBS community. As a new editor is selected we have every hope and expectation that the school and The Harbus will find ways to support each other, as has been the tradition for many years.”
Susan Kim (OC), publisher of The Harbus News Corporation, which operates The Harbus as well as Top of Mind, a quarterly magazine, said: “Nick has done a fantastic job raising the quality of the editorial content and encouraging healthy discussion. We are very sad to see him go.”
The Harbus began publishing in 1937 and in 1980 incorporated as a not-for-profit business. Todd Krizelman (OC), chairman of the board of directors of The Harbus News Corporation, said Derek Mendez (OD), the sports editor, would take over as acting editor-in-chief.