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To fulfill Harvard Law School’s mission of training excellent lawyers, our classrooms must offer an environment in which all participants feel able to engage in free, open, respectful discussion of complex, sensitive, and consequential questions. Our classrooms are places in which students make arguments sometimes because they deeply believe in them, sometimes because they’re exploring what they believe, and sometimes because they’re trying to understand a contrary view or have been asked by the professor to take a position with which they may disagree. Everybody is learning, everybody has to think and respond within fast-moving discussions, and everybody will make mistakes as part of the law school learning process. In training to be the best lawyers they can be, students must be able to try arguments on for size, change their minds, and take risks.

The proliferation of social media affects this learning environment. Because of the potential permanence and widespread dissemination of communications through social media and other forms of communication designed to reach members of the public, if statements made in class are quoted or described with attribution in those media, students may be reluctant to approach any question, particularly controversial ones, with the openness and vulnerability they need to grow as lawyers and to learn from one another. Moreover, given the particular pedagogy of law classes, it may be hard, when quoting statements made in class, to accurately distinguish when speakers are expressing their own views or speaking in the role of advocate, to capture all of the qualifications or nuance that speakers may have provided, or to fairly convey the full context necessary to understand why speakers took a particular position on a complex legal question. In addition, the widespread dissemination of such statements with attribution may risk subjecting the speaker to online harassment, bullying, or worse.

The Harvard Law School Community Principles generally address these types of concerns by requiring all of us “to respect the rights, dignity, and differences of others, pursue honesty and integrity in dealing with all members of the community in person and online, and accept personal responsibility in these efforts.” That community includes students, staff, and faculty. However, because it is especially important for students to bring an attitude of openness and experimentation to their learning, and because our pedagogy often requires students to speak in class and take positions on topics not of their choosing, an additional Community Principle, modeled on the Chatham House Rule, is appropriate for student statements made in class. In particular, the following principle now applies to classroom discussion:

When using social media or other forms of communication designed to reach members of the public, no one may repeat or describe a statement made by a student in class in a manner that would enable a person who was not present in the class to identify the speaker of the statement.

In addition to this non-attribution principle, it is important always to work to identify and foster the norms and conditions that will encourage free, open, and respectful classroom discourse that will build community, enable all in a broad and diverse community to learn from one another, and support excellence in teaching and learning. 

Interpretive Comments

  1. The phrase “statement made in class” includes a verbal statement made in any class session of a course, as well as a written statement made in class or classroom-related spaces (such as a Zoom chat or a Canvas discussion thread).
  2. Nothing in the foregoing prevents: (a) a faculty member or students in a course from otherwise communicating, in person or electronically, with one another in a manner that attributes statements to a student; or (b) face-to-face discussion or email, text, or other interpersonal exchanges about class discussion, provided that exchanges under these subsections (as with all exchanges) respect the generally applicable Harvard Law School Community Principles outlined above.
  1. Nothing in the foregoing prevents: (a) a student or faculty member from referring to a statement made in class with attribution in seeking assistance from HLS or University administrators or faculty or reporting to appropriate officials misconduct under law or University or HLS policy; or (b) a faculty member from otherwise performing ordinary responsibilities as an advisor or recommender.
  2. In order to further facilitate open classroom discussion, faculty members may adopt additional guidelines regarding recounting or reporting on statements made in class. Any such guidelines should be stated clearly and prominently in writing at the outset of the course in a syllabus or statement of classroom policies.