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Work Group Recommends Institutional Neutrality at Harvard

Harvard University plans to implement a policy of institutional neutrality, meaning it will not weigh in on public matters that do not affect the university’s core function.

Dr. Alison SimmonsDr. Alison SimmonsThe university announced the policy following a report, “Report on Institutional Voice in the University,” issued by its Open Inquiry and Constructive Dialogue Working Group. The undertaking is similar to the University of Chicago’s policy, outlined the Kalven Report, which calls for the neutrality “out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.”

“With the university’s decision to take up these principles, there will need to be a significant culture shift as people realize, inside Harvard and outside, that the University has genuinely adopted a ‘say less’ policy,” said Dr. Noah Feldman, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He co-chaired the working group with Dr. Alison Simmons, the Samuel H. Wolcott Professor of Philosophy at Harvard.

Simmons said the working group received input from more than 1,000 people across the university before arriving at the policy recommendation. She said the policy is based partly on helping to better discern what statements are official (and not distorted) university statements and partly on limiting pressures to speak in polarized ways on political matters.

The report emphasized that the university itself is not a neutral institution as it values open inquiry, expertise, and diverse points of view.

“The policy of speaking officially only on matters directly related to the university’s core function, not beyond, serves those values,” the report read. “It should enable the university to endure and flourish, providing its unique public good even – and especially – in times of intense public controversy.”

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