Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a Wednesday interview he believes Harvard students should keep in mind the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ free speech policy as they air dissenting opinions and plan on-campus protests.
“The way change happens in society is that people have to hear voices. They have to be able to argue points of view and be able to persuade,” Khurana said. “It's not only a part of our College’s mission, but I think it's really important for democratic society right now.”
Khurana also touched upon the topic of free speech in his August welcome email to students. He wrote then that he is “concerned” about some aspects of on-campus disagreements and pointed undergraduates toward the FAS guidelines adopted in 1990. FAS maintains these regulations, which apply to all FAS “gatherings,” because academic pursuits like research, teaching, and learning require the “free interchange of ideas,” according to the guidelines.
“While I am proud that so many of you fiercely advocate for your beliefs, I am also concerned that sometimes on this campus we see those with differing opinions as undeserving of our attention, our respect, or our compassion,” he wrote. “Hearing each other’s points of view, having our own assumptions challenged, and interrogating our values are experiences central to Harvard’s liberal arts and sciences education.”
Khurana’s comments this semester come amid a national reckoning regarding free speech protections on college campuses. The University of California, Berkeley; Middlebury College, and the University of Chicago have all made national headlines for campus free speech controversies.
In 2017 at Harvard, the Harvard Financial Analysts Club invited controversial ex-pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli to campus, where he was interrupted by chanting protestors and a false fire alarm. Later that year, Harvard’s Open Campus Initiative’s invitation to controversial sociologist Charles A. Murray ’65 — whose work linking race to IQ has been denounced and discredited by academics — drew dozens of protesters.
Khurana has previously said he was “pleased” to see students engage in activism and protest. His comments came after activists interrupted University President Lawrence S. Bacow as part of their push for the University to divest its endowment from the fossil fuel industry and companies tied to prisons.
The College updated its resource guide for student groups this year to elaborate on free speech policies based on the FAS free speech guidelines. This year’s resource guide explains that organizations inviting controversial or high-profile speakers must make use of College-approved moderators.
Khurana said he included the nearly 30-year-old policy in his email to students because of the current political moment.
“I think that's what it means to be an electric, alive institution. The potential for an institution like Harvard, is to do what academic institutions have done at really critical, axial moments in society, which is to be the place where we're deciding who we want to be, the place where the ideas are being generated,” Khurana said. “It's not only a part of our college’s mission, but I think it's really important for democratic society right now.”