Harvard leaders no longer commenting on issues unrelated to ‘core function’

Harvard will no longer be commenting on issues unrelated to the “core function” of its institution, the university announced Tuesday, a decision made after months of turmoil over the Israel-Hamas war.

The recommendation that the school not comment on controversial public issues came from a report led by the “Institutional Voice Working Group” the school established in April.

The report “reasons that when the University ‘speaks officially on matters outside its institutional area of expertise,’ such statements risk compromising the ‘integrity and credibility’ of our academic mission and may undermine open inquiry and academic freedom by making ‘it more difficult for some members of the community to express their views when they differ from the university’s official position,’” the school said in its statement announcing the report and new policy.

“We have accepted the faculty Working Group’s report and recommendations, which also have been endorsed by the Harvard Corporation,” the statement reads.

The new policy will affect university administrators, deans of schools and department chairs.

It comes after the university has gone through multiple controversies this year related to the Israel-Hamas war, from the resignation of its former president to the pro-Palestinian encampment.

“There will be close cases where reasonable people disagree about whether a given issue is or is not directly related to the core function of the university,” the report said. “The university’s policy in those situations should be to err on the side of avoiding official statements.”

This tactic aligns with the decades-old debates of “institutional neutrality” in academia. Institutional neutrality states that universities should not take public stances on controversial issues of today as not to influence open debate on their campuses.

But Harvard does not want to be labeled as neutral with this stance.

“The purpose of the university is to pursue truth. In that pursuit, the university as an institution can never be neutral, because we believe in the value of seeking truth through open inquiry, debate, and weighing the evidence, as opposed to mere assertion or unjustified belief,” the beginning of the report reads.

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