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Hoekstra Announces FAS Civil Discourse Initiative at December Faculty Meeting

University Hall houses the offices of many top Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators.
University Hall houses the offices of many top Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators. By Michael Gritzbach
By Rahem D. Hamid and Elias J. Schisgall, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra announced the creation of an FAS initiative on promoting civil discourse and previewed a Harvard-wide “comprehensive strategy” to respond to antisemitism and Islamophobia during a faculty meeting Tuesday afternoon.

During the meeting — which took place as University President Claudine Gay testified before Congress about antisemitism on Harvard’s campus — Hoekstra announced that Gay and Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 would soon announce a strategy to combat both antisemitism and Islamophobia at Harvard in response to questions raised at the faculty meeting last month.

“We are not quite ready to announce our approach but are continuing to work towards the development of a comprehensive strategy aimed at responding to instances of Islamophobia and antisemitism,” Hoekstra said. “We anticipate we will be able to formally announce something soon.”

Hoekstra, who has previously declined to comment on Israel-Palestine issues on campus, also said that a training on how to manage classroom disruptions would become available in the new year. Student groups have occasionally disrupted classes during protest events.

Hoekstra also announced that Government professor Eric Beerbohm, who was recently appointed to lead the Safra Center for Ethics, will serve as a senior adviser to Hoekstra on civil discourse.

“Harvard’s community brings together a stunning array of perspectives, disciplines, life experiences, and questions. It’s our distinctive institutional superpower,” Hoekstra said. “But to achieve our full potential for learning and knowledge creation, we also need an environment of mutual respect, openness, and genuine curiosity about insights beyond our own experience.”

“I see nurturing the skills and frameworks of civil discourse, of constructive disagreement and debate, as an essential investment in our institutional effectiveness and key to preparing our students to engage meaningfully with the world’s complex challenges,” she added.

Hoekstra said Beerbohm would focus on training “skills” for productive academic discourse, identifying areas to include civil discourse in curricula, and “modeling civic discourse for our community.”

“I see this as a long-term goal for the FAS,” Hoekstra said.

Beerbohm said that he is “working on planning innovative house-based programming in the spring” on civil discourse as well as creating programming for upperclassman house tutors and freshman Yard proctors. He added that he would also be collaborating with the Program in General Education and the Harvard College Writing Program to incorporate civil discourse into the curriculum.

At the meeting, Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana presented a change to the Harvard College Handbook that would allow the Administrative Board and Honor Council to require that students who are subject to disciplinary action complete an educational program.

The meeting also featured a presentation on artificial intelligence from Harvard Kennedy School professor of the practice Latanya A. Sweeney, FAS Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs, and Dean of Arts and Humanities Robin E. Kelsey.

Correction: December 6, 2023

A previous of this article misattributed a quote (“I see this as a long-term goal for the FAS.”) to Eric Beerbohm. In fact, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra said this.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Elias J. Schisgall can be reached at elias.schisgall@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @eschisgall.

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