update deskSchools & Higher Education

Harvard adopts ‘institutional neutrality’ policy

An internal report provides what administrators call “a set of principles and recommendations that ground the use of institutional voice.”

The Widener Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 7, 2007. Credit: Joseph Williams via Wikimedia Commons.
The Widener Library at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 7, 2007. Credit: Joseph Williams via Wikimedia Commons.

According to Alan Garber, Harvard University’s interim president, the elite college will follow the advice of its Institutional Voice Working Group and refrain from forays into fractious public policy debates.

Garber and 17 other school administrators said in a statement released Tuesday that the working group’s report provides “a set of principles and recommendations that ground the use of institutional voice in the university’s mission of ‘seeking truth through open inquiry, debate, and weighing…evidence.’”

In their statement, the academic leaders noted that the report said, “The university and its leaders should not…issue official statements about public matters that do not directly affect the university’s core function.”

The working group warned that failure to do so could result in damage to institutional “integrity and credibility.” 

Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychology professor and author of such books as “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” praised the decision on social media, as well as those who led the task force.

“Harvard Should Say Less. Maybe All Schools Should,” Pinker wrote. “As the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard has advocated, Harvard will adopt a policy of institutional neutrality.”

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