The central functions of an academic community are learning, teaching, research, and scholarship. By accepting membership in the University, an individual joins a community ideally characterized by free expression, free inquiry, intellectual honesty, respect for the dignity of others, and openness to constructive change. The rights and responsibilities exercised within the community must be compatible with these qualities.
The rights of members of the University are not fundamentally different from those of other members of society. The University, however, has a special autonomy and reasoned dissent plays a particularly vital part in its existence. All members of the University have the right to press for action on matters of concern by any appropriate means. The University must affirm, assure, and protect the rights of its members to organize and join political associations, convene and conduct public meetings, publicly demonstrate and picket in orderly fashion, advocate, and publicize opinion by print, sign, and voice.
The University places special emphasis, as well, upon certain values which are essential to its nature as an academic community. Among these are freedom of speech and academic freedom, freedom from personal force and violence, and freedom of movement. Interference with any of these freedoms must be regarded as a serious violation of the personal rights upon which the community is based. Furthermore, although the administrative processes and activities of the University cannot be ends in themselves, such functions are vital to the orderly pursuit of the work of all members of the University. Therefore, interference with members of the University in performance of their normal duties and activities must be regarded as unacceptable obstruction of the essential processes of the University. Theft or willful destruction of the property of the University or its members must also be considered an unacceptable violation of the rights of individuals or of the community as a whole.
Moreover, it is the responsibility of all members of the academic community to maintain an atmosphere in which violations of rights are unlikely to occur and to develop processes by which these rights are fully assured. In particular, it is the responsibility of officers of administration and instruction to be alert to the needs of the University community; to give full and fair hearing to reasoned expressions of grievances; and to respond promptly and in good faith to such expressions and to widely expressed needs for change. In making decisions that concern the community as a whole or any part of the community, officers are expected to consult with those affected by the decisions. Failures to meet these responsibilities may be profoundly damaging to the life of the University. Therefore, the University community has the right to establish orderly procedures consistent with imperatives of academic freedom to assess the policies and assure the responsibility of those whose decisions affect the life of the University.
No violation of the rights of members of the University, nor any failure to meet responsibilities, should be interpreted as justifying any violation of the rights of members of the University. All members of the community—students and officers alike—should uphold the rights and responsibilities expressed in this Statement if the University is to be characterized by mutual respect and trust.
It is implicit in the language of the Statement on Rights and Responsibilities that intense personal harassment of such a character as to amount to grave disrespect for the dignity of others be regarded as an unacceptable violation of the personal rights on which the University is based.
It is implicit in the University-wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities that any unauthorized occupation of a University building, or any part of it, that interferes with the ability of members of the University to perform their normal activities constitutes unacceptable conduct in violation of the Statement and is subject to appropriate discipline.
This University-wide Statement and its first interpretation were adopted on an interim basis by the Governing Boards on September 20, 1970, and were voted to remain in effect indefinitely in May 1977. The second interpretation was adopted by the Governing Boards in January-February 2002.
In view of events last spring and beyond, questions have been raised about Harvard’s policies regarding protests and demonstrations. We take this opportunity to affirm our shared commitment to an academic community in which all members of the University are able to express their views freely and vigorously. We also affirm our commitment to ensuring that all members of the University are able to carry out their normal duties and activities in support of the University’s mission without interference or constraint by others. These commitments are expressed in the longstanding University-wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities.
We believe it is timely to remind the University community of this longstanding policy statement and its application to unauthorized occupation of University buildings. To highlight that aspect of the existing policy, we have proposed and the Governing Boards have adopted an “interpretation” of the Statement, parallel to a prior “interpretation” regarding personal harassment. The newly adopted interpretation has been appended to the University-wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities and now appears at the bottom of its text.
While we recognize that the determination of specific penalties for violation of this policy by students is primarily the responsibility of the several faculties, we regard it as essential that there be shared understandings across the University that emphasize the serious nature of building occupations that interfere with the ability of members of the University to carry out their normal duties and activities and the serious consequences that should follow from such interference. We are therefore informing the relevant officers and committees in our faculties of our shared view that students who engage in such conduct should ordinarily be subject to suspension, and that others who engage in similar conduct should be subject to appropriate sanction. Of course, applicable laws may also bear on such conduct, and the University-wide Statement itself has potential application to many other forms of conduct.
We also believe it important, when a building occupation or similar acts involve participants from different Schools, that steps be taken toward coordination in the approach to discipline, including possible reference to the University-wide Committee on Rights and Responsibilities.