Harvard Says It Will No Longer Take Positions on Matters Outside of the University


“There is no such thing as institutional neutrality,” Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said on Tuesday. “Those who claim they are going to abide by it find a myriad fallback positions in which they say, ‘but not in this case.’ When it comes to matters of political salience, universities will do what they’ve always done. Institutional neutrality is a false flag.”

For years, universities had, mostly without controversy, issued messages on any number of world and local events, from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to racism at home. But perhaps unlike any other issue, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict split university communities, and clarified the downsides of such statements on highly contested topics.

Harvard came under withering criticism for how it communicated after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel.

Harvard, for some critics, like the university’s former president Lawrence H. Summers, was woefully slow in denouncing a pro-Palestinian letter by a student coalition, which held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for the unfolding violence.” Dr. Summers suggested that the void left by Harvard’s slow response had allowed the student statement to stand as the university’s official position in the minds of some people.

After Harvard’s president at the time, Claudine Gay, released a series of statements, including one that condemned the “terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas” and called them “abhorrent,” the administration was accused of capitulating to influential alumni and wealthy donors. She ended up resigning, in part for her handling of the protests over the Israel-Hamas war.

Mr. Feldman said the transition would not be easy. It would require a culture change, for people inside and outside of the university to accept that “the university has genuinely adopted a ‘say less’ policy,” he told The Gazette.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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