College Considers Revising Freshman Pledge for Next Year

Administrators say they plan to implement another statement of community values next fall, despite reversing course last month on their freshman kindness pledge by taking down publicly posted signatures in freshman dormitories.

“I don’t think we will follow the process that we had in place this year, but I think there’s a commitment to making our institutional values explicit,” said Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67.

Administrators say they have not determined whether that effort will take the form of a values pledge, as it did this year.

In order to assess students’ opinions of the pledge, the yearly freshman survey may include a question about its effect, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds said.

“We’re going to evaluate the success of this effort, determine how students felt about it at the end of their freshman year, and then we’ll think about what we might do in future years,” Hammonds said. “We may learn that it didn’t help us accomplish the goal of helping people think about those issues.”

Administrators have already received some feedback. Dingman said that a few entryways wrote to him suggesting that next years’ freshmen have the chance to come up with their own lists of values to sign. Others, he said, were pleased with this year’s pledge and felt that their signing experience was “hijacked” when controversy arose.

“Something that for them had meaning was somehow diminished,” Dingman said.

The pledge, which proctors asked freshmen to sign during Opening Days, said that freshmen would consider their entryways to be places “where the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.”

The documents, with a designated spot for each student to add his signature, were to be hung publicly in freshman dormitories. But criticism ensued, sparked by a blog post by Harry R. Lewis ’68, a former dean of the College and computer science professor, who told The Crimson that a values oath proffered by the College was “very unscholarly.”

Lewis said that because the student signatures were displayed publicly, students might feel pressure to sign. In the wake of the controversy, the College decided to hang the framed documents without signatures, with just the text of the pledge.

Administrators said they stand by the rationale underlying the pledge.

“It was a very good idea on the part of the Freshman Dean’s Office,” Hammonds said. “They had very clear and good reasons for trying to have a conversation in the entryways about expectations of behavior as part of living in a community, including civility, respect for each other, and kindness.”

Other administrators echoed Hammonds’s sentiments.

“We should also be willing to talk about Harvard’s core values, including truth, service, and treating each other with dignity and respect,” said Dean of the Student Life Suzy M. Nelson.

She added that she “hope[s] we are able to have that conversation again, next year, even if we adjust and do it a little differently.”

The original pledge came out of a committee of students and administrators, including Dingman.

“I think with any new initiative, in the implementation, there are likely to be some areas that you overlook,” Dingman said. “I think it’s unfortunate that we had those, but I think to accept responsibility for them and to proceed with some humility but determination seems appropriate.”

—Staff writer Hana N. Rouse can be reached at hrouse@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Julie M. Zauzmer can be reached at jzauzmer@college.harvard.edu.

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