Harvard, Syracuse promise to stop commenting on controversial 'public matters'

​​Harvard University and Syracuse University both announced they will no longer issue institutional statements on controversial issues.

Harvard University and Syracuse University both announced they will no longer issue institutional statements on controversial issues.

Members of the Harvard Institutional Voice Working Group, which Harvard President Alan Garber commissioned in April, advised university leadership that the institution shouldn’t comment on controversial issues in a report released Tuesday.

”The university and its leaders should not, however, issue official statements about public matters that do not directly affect the university’s core function,” the report stated. 

The group did state in its report that university leaders should speak publicly about issues related to its core function.

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”Accordingly, the university has a responsibility to speak out to protect and promote its core function. Its leaders must communicate the value of the university’s central activities. They must defend the university’s autonomy and academic freedom when threatened – if, for example, outside forces seek to determine what students the university can admit, what subjects it can teach, or which research it supports. And they must speak out on issues directly relevant to the university’s operation,” the group wrote.

According to the Harvard Crimson, Garber wrote in a Tuesday email with other administrators that “the process of translating these principles into concrete practice will, of course, require time and experience.”

Harvard Provost John F. Manning oversaw the working group.

Syracuse University also announced on Wednesday that it committed to not commenting on “current controversies” as part of the Syracuse Statement, which was developed by a working group.

”Except under the most extraordinary circumstances and with the sole purpose of protecting its mission of discovery, improvement and dissemination of knowledge, the University does not make institutional statements or pronouncements on current controversies. Nor does the University require students, faculty, or administrators to express a particular viewpoint on such matters,” the statement read.

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”This commitment to institutional neutrality is meant to guarantee the free participation of all members of this scholarly community in public debates without fear of reprisal. At the same time, the University’s commitment to institutional neutrality is not meant to restrict the free expression rights of individual members of the University community, but that expression cannot commit the University to positions that go beyond the University’s stated academic mission or its protection,” it added.