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Updated: November 21, 2023, at 5:04 p.m.
Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences published a policy Friday that would require students to register protests and impose restrictions on protesters’ conduct — before removing the language from their website entirely Tuesday.
After The Crimson reported the policy’s release, the page was taken down Tuesday afternoon — returning “404 — Page Not Found” on the GSAS website. Previously, the updated policy had been announced through a banner on the GSAS home page, though this also no longer appears.
“A draft policy was published prematurely and has been removed from the website pending further internal review,” GSAS spokesperson Bailey V. Snyder wrote in an email Tuesday, noting that the school remains subject to University and Faculty of Arts and Sciences guidelines.
As it appeared Monday evening, the policy — which cited Harvard’s Statement on Rights and Responsibilities issued in response to anti-Vietnam War protests — would prohibit protesters from obstructing vehicle and pedestrian traffic, blocking building entrances, and disrupting “academic activities” including classes. Demonstrators would also need prior approval to use amplified sound systems.
The policy’s announcement came following weeks of demonstrations on Harvard’s campus against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, coming the same day that a group of nine pro-Palestine undergraduate protesters concluded a 24-hour occupation of University Hall calling for a ceasefire.
Major protests over the war have erupted at Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and in Harvard Yard — many of them co-organized by Graduate Students 4 Palestine, a pro-Palestine advocacy group launched in April that bridges the University’s 12 graduate schools, including GSAS.
Some conduct at these protests would appear to be restricted by the policy, including classroom walkouts, the use of megaphones during demonstrations, and marches that have filled streets in Harvard Square.
The policy would also require organizers to register events with the GSAS Student Center or the GSAS Dean of Students Office at least three days before they are held if they are protests or if they involve speakers or guests who are “high-profile,” “perceived as controversial,” or “likely to generate protests.” A requirement to register protests is not present at any of Harvard’s other schools.
During registration, student groups would be asked to identify the event organizers; the date, time, and location of the event; and the expected number of attendees. Student groups may register within three days of the planned event if they provide a description of “extenuating circumstances” that prevented earlier registration.
“Registration will not be denied based on content, subject matter, or viewpoint,” the policy stated. It did not specify what circumstances may lead the school to deny registration.
Columbia University suspended two pro-Palestine student organizations on Nov. 10 over an on-campus protest, citing a stipulation similar to the Harvard GSAS policy requiring demonstrations to be registered and approved by the university.
The Columbia Spectator reported that the school updated its event policies to be more prohibitive just 12 days before the suspensions.
Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, universities have struggled to strike a balance between allowing free expression on their campuses and responding to the concerns of some students and donors over conduct at those demonstrations they deem unacceptable.
Kenneth C. Griffin ’89, the new namesake of GSAS after his $300 million donation to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, was among the alumni who expressed concerns over the University’s response to the invasion of Israel by Hamas. The New York Times reported that he urged the University to state strong support for Israel in the wake of the attacks in a call to Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81.
While Harvard’s administration has been more reluctant to directly sanction protesters than some peer universities, the University has increasingly taken a tougher stance on some conduct by demonstrators.
Harvard President Claudine Gay explicitly condemned the pro-Palestine chant “from the river to the sea” in a Nov. 9 statement, and the College indefinitely removed a proctor, Elom Tettey-Tamaklo — who helped found GS4P — over an altercation at the HBS “die-in.” Protesters who participated in the University Hall occupation are now also facing potential discipline by the College’s Administrative Board.
The GSAS policy did not explicitly lay out consequences for policy violations, but stated that breaches “may result in disciplinary action or other sanctions.”
The policy also stipulated that GSAS may require events to use a moderator, who will generally be a faculty member or administrator, to ensure “open and civil discussion.”
“Decisions at the Event about how to balance the rights of a speaker with the rights of dissenters will be made by the moderator” or other officials named by GSAS, according to the policy. Among other powers, the moderator would have the ability to move or cancel an event as well as eject disruptive individuals.
After registration, the DSO would contact organizers to discuss event details, including “the need for modifications to the planned Event” such as to date, time, or “noise level,” according to the policy, which specifically cites a potential need to reschedule events planned for reading or exam period.
The policy appeared to borrow language and requirements from similar protest and dissent guidelines at other schools, including the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, and the FAS — though a notable exception is the protest registration requirement, which is not present within the FAS.
The policy reiterated students’ rights to dissent at speaker events, but stated that “dissenters must not substantially interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or an audience’s ability to see and hear the speaker” — for instance, by distributing leaflets during the speaking portion of an event, holding up signs that block audience members’ view of the speaker, or chanting over a speech.
“Dissenters are entitled to express their objections in other ways,” the policy read, echoing language from several other schools’ speech policies. “The right to dissent is the complement of the right to speak, but these rights need not occupy the same forum at the same time.”
—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at email@example.com.
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