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Harvard President Garber Forms Groups to Explore Open Inquiry, Institutional Neutrality

Interim Harvard President Alan Garber formed two working groups on Thursday to help protect the University from a repeat of last fall's controversy.
Interim Harvard President Alan Garber formed two working groups on Thursday to help protect the University from a repeat of last fall's controversy. By Julian J. Giordano
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Six months after Harvard’s slow response to Hamas’ attack on Israel sparked an onslaught of criticism, interim President Alan M. Garber ’76 formed a working group to explore whether the University should have spoken out in the first place.

Garber announced the creation of an “Institutional Voice Working Group” and an “Open Inquiry and Constructive Dialogue Working Group” in an email to affiliates Thursday afternoon.

Both groups will be overseen by interim Harvard Provost John F. Manning ’82, who has received praise from faculty at Harvard Law School for his policy as dean to avoid taking official stances on public issues and for his efforts to enhance free speech protections.

The twin working groups mark Garber’s latest effort to protect free speech and avoid a repeat of last fall, when the University’s administration was widely condemned for its initial response to the Israel-Hamas war that struggled to strike the right tone in its messaging to a campus deeply divided by the conflict.

“In recent months and years, we have heard clearly that many in our community feel constrained in their ability to express their views on critically important questions,” Garber and Manning wrote in a joint email. “More and more members of our community have also asked whether and when the University should use its official voice to address matters of social and political significance.”

“We are convening two working groups to examine these issues and recommend how the University can most effectively nurture and reinforce a culture of open inquiry, constructive dialogue, and academic freedom,” he added.

The announcement is also the latest indication that the University is looking to adopt a policy of institutional neutrality.

The Open Inquiry and Constructive Dialogue Working Group will be led by Eric Beerbohm, the director of the Safra Center for Ethics, and Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin.

The working group will look at how the University can “support constructive disagreement” and viewpoint diversity on campus.

It comes just over one month after the College announced its Intellectual Vitality Initiative, an effort to combat self-censorship on campus and four months after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences launched its own civil discourse initiative. Beerbohm also serves as a senior adviser on civil discourse to FAS Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra.

The Institutional Voice Working Group will be led by HLS professor Noah R. Feldman ’92 and Philosophy professor Alison J. Simmons.

Garber wrote that the group would consider when the University should issue “official, institutional declarations about matters of social and political significance” as well as who is “authorized” to speak on behalf of the University.

Garber and Manning asked affiliates to consider writing to the groups on institutional neutrality and free speech issues. Similar to listening sessions held by the task forces on antisemitism and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias, the two groups will meet with faculty, students, and staff in the coming months to hear their concerns and suggestions.

Garber and Manning wrote that the two groups will eventually submit recommendations to the university on their assigned topics, but did not specify a timeline for their work.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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