Harvard Won't Speak Out on Issues That Don't Affect It

Though the university does not consider itself officially 'neutral'
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2024 1:30 AM CDT
Harvard Won't Speak Out on Issues That Don't Affect It
Harvard University students pass protesters while filing into Harvard Yard for commencement, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Cambridge, Mass.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Harvard, one of many universities under fire for its treatment of pro-Palestinian protesters on campus, announced on Tuesday that it is moving toward public neutrality—a position already adopted earlier this year at Columbia. The decision is intended to protect free speech on campus, but some critics don't consider the move altogether sincere.

  • What it means: The Massachusetts university and its leaders will not "issue official statements about public matters that do not directly affect the university's core function." That was the recommendation of a faculty working group formed in April to determine whether the school should continue to publicly comment on "salient issues," and Harvard said it would adopt the recommendation.

  • How it looks elsewhere: The University of Chicago similarly refuses to make any public statements on policy issues, but the Guardian reports that when it recently called police to pro-Palestinian encampments on campus, some took that as the school taking a public stance on the issue of the Israel-Hamas war.
  • Questioning Harvard's sincerity: Critics have pointed out that Harvard has a financial stake in the war. "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," one Harvard PhD candidate posted on X.
  • Not neutral: The Harvard Crimson says that, while the guidelines bring the university closer in line with schools that have adopted institutional neutrality, Harvard is not technically neutral. "Our report argues that the University is fundamentally committed to a non-neutral set of values specifically, getting to the truth by experiment, open inquiry, and debate," says a co-chair of the working group report. "The University is regularly under attack today, as truth itself is under attack. This report says the University should not be neutral in that important matter of the future of universities."
  • As for those investments: The Crimson notes the report does not mention investment or divestment decisions, a core issue for many pro-Palestinian protesters at the school. The co-chair says the report's recommendations on Harvard's "institutional voice" do not dictate an answer to the question of what it should do about its investments, and that the group did not consider financial decisions to be the same as a "statement in words" made by the university.
(More 2024 campus protests stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.