Houston, who says he came to Harvard to help those “struggling with homosexuality,” raised some eyebrows on campus after a profile of him appeared in The Crimson two months ago.
Both Harvard officials—Robert W. Iuliano, deputy general counsel, and Elizabeth Studley “Ibby” Nathans, dean of freshmen—emphasized Harvard’s protection of free speech and suggested that the University may not take any action against Houston.
“An employee would not ordinarily face discipline merely for holding certain views,” Iuliano wrote in an e-mail last Thursday.
The University is also unlikely to restrict Houston’s interactions with undergraduates, according to Iuliano.
“It is difficult to foresee a situation in which an employee would be ordered to refrain from speaking at all with students,” he wrote in the General Counsel’s Office’s first statement since being contacted by The Crimson four weeks ago.
Iuliano declined to comment on the specifics of Houston’s situation, but Nathans did address his particular case.
In a letter dated Nov. 1, she rejected the notion of repressing unpopular viewpoints.
“[Harvard] can—indeed sometimes must—also provide protection for what most in this community might find uncomfortable or offensive or even extraordinarily misguided or wrong ideas,” she wrote.
Nathans wrote her letter in response to a letter from two gay students—Catholic Student Association Interfaith Committee Chair Christopher L. Pierce ’02 and Jeffrey P. Morgan ’02, coordinator of Cornerstone, a discussion group for Catholic bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgendered students.
“We believe University officals should continue to explore whether Mr. Houston is overstepping his responsibility as a University cook,” they wrote to Nathans and Associate Dean of the College David P. Illingworth ’71.
Illingworth said he has not responded to the letter because he hopes to meet with the two students in person.
Illingworth, who said his “door is always open” to students who wish to come forward with complaints about Houston, said he will investigate any allegations.
“I don’t know if we’re done with this yet,” he said.
The University has in place a policy that prohibits recognized chaplains from proselytizing on campus, but last month the United Ministry said the policy does not apply to Houston because he is not affiliated wtih an offical chaplaincy.
The two seniors criticized the policy, and said Harvard should hold Houston—whom they wrote represents a chaplaincy based on “intolerance and conversion”—to the same standards.
“The University [has] the opportunity to screen out those religious organizations and individuals who would prey upon unsuspecting or vulnerable students,” they wrote.
Nathans declined to comment about policies relating to the United Ministry.
But Illingworth said there could be limits to Houston’s ability to speak about the ex-gay movement.
“Does he have the right to talk about it? Yes. But not in any official capacity on campus,” he said.
Houston said he still has not heard from any University official. He is continuing to work on his book about what he calls “the lie of homosexuality,” and is hoping to created a dialogue on campus about the issue.
“We’re in a liberal society, let the figures and arguments speak for themselves,” Houston said.
—Crimson staff writer Amit R. Paley can be reached at email@example.com.