Harvard will no longer take positions on issues that don’t affect its ‘core functions’ | Harvard University

Harvard University announced on Tuesday that it would no longer take official positions on policy issues following widespread student-led protests over the war in Gaza.

The decision from Harvard comes after the university formed a working group in April to decide if it should continue making public comment on “salient issues”, according to an email announcing the decision.

The working group determined: “The university and its leaders should not … issue official statements about public matters that do not directly affect the university’s core function.”

When asked for comment, a representative of Harvard University directed the Guardian to an earlier statement.

The university said, in part: “We have accepted the faculty Working Group’s report and recommendations, which also have been endorsed by the Harvard Corporation. The process of translating these principles into concrete practice will, of course, require time and experience, and we look forward to the work ahead.”

Harvard’s decision has already received intense scrutiny from other academics who accuse the university of pretending to be neutral amid Israel’s war in Gaza while being financially invested.

Michael S Roth, the president of Wesleyan University who spoke out about the upcoming election and how politicians have been attacking “higher education”, “democracy” and “the rule of law” in his commencement speech this year, quipped on X, formerly known as Twitter, that his speech was not intended to be taken quite this way.

“By ‘fighting back’ I didn’t mean neutrality about the freedoms, rights & responsibilities that make education possible.”

He told students in his speech: “The attack on higher education, on democracy, on the rule of law, threatens to sweep away the freedoms that have been hard won over the last 100 years. We can fight back. Between now and 5 November, many of our students, faculty, staff and alumni will be practicing freedom by participating in the electoral process. They will work on behalf of candidates and in regard to issues bearing on the future of fairness, inclusion, free speech and the possibilities for full engagement with others.”

Eric Reinhart, a PhD candidate at Harvard and psychoanalytic clinician, also criticized Harvard for suggesting neutrality while having investments in the US and Israeli military.

“Harvard declares itself neutral with respect to political affairs, while actively investing in arms manufacturers and continuing with its myriad contracts with Israel and the US military. Rather convenient notion of neutrality and institutional responsibility, if you ask me,” Reinhart said on X.

Others have defended Harvard’s decision as a needed step to protect free speech.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression applauded Harvard’s decision as a form of institutional neutrality “which preserves colleges and universities’ ability to defend the rights of all students and faculty without apology or qualification”, the organization said on X.

The latest change in policy comes after graduating students led a mass demonstration at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony over its treatment of pro-Palestinian student protestors.

Thirteen students were barred from graduating over their involvement in pro-Palestinian encampments, a decision that was met with widespread condemnation from students and faculty.

Two commencement speakers criticized the university’s decision to bar the students, despite pushback.

Harvard joins other universities who have embraced public neutrality as a strategy to defend free speech. In a unanimous vote earlier this year, Columbia University’s senate recently adopted institutional neutrality; efforts by faculty at schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University are looking to follow suit.

The University of Chicago is widely known for its protection of free speech on campus, including its refusal to make public statements on policy issues. But the university recently came under scrutiny for calling police on pro-Palestinian encampment protests, a move that many interpreted as a stance on the issue, the New York Times reported.

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