A Message from the President
Dear Members of the Harvard Community:
Over the past twelve days, I have heard from many members of our community about events related to the national Occupy movement, Occupy Harvard, the encampment in Harvard Yard, and the judgments we’ve made at the University related to access to the Yard. As we approach the Thanksgiving break, I want to take this occasion to share more fully some of the principles and realities that have informed our decisions and actions, and to update you on plans for Yard access.
The values of free speech and the commitment to the safety of students, faculty, and staff have been fundamental in our considerations. To sustain both these goals, we decided to limit access to the Yard to Harvard ID holders and authorized visitors. All members of the Harvard community have full ability to enter the Yard and express their views, and the rest of the campus remains open as usual for all voices and participants in the debate. Over the past nearly two weeks, the Occupy Harvard group has held meetings, rallies, and information sessions, significantly shaping the broader community discourse. Occupants have camped safely in the Yard, and have gathered with others outside the community in demonstrations and rallies at the ART, in the IOP Forum, in Harvard Square, and at other locations. Forums have been held in many undergraduate houses, at the Harvard Political Union, and online. We have sought throughout to affirm the rights of the demonstrators to express their views, on and off campus, while simultaneously protecting the safety and security of our freshmen residences. We have heard from many freshmen and parents that they appreciate the efforts to safeguard the students’ living space.
Our concern about the safety of our students has been greatly influenced by our observations of the behavior of outsiders who participated in the demonstrations on Wednesday, November 9, as well as by web postings from individuals outside Harvard urging confrontation and disruption on our campus. Several hundred people converged on the Harvard campus that night. The conduct of many of them was deeply troubling. Some attempted to enter the Yard by force, assaulted at least one Harvard police officer, grabbing his gun belt and stealing his radio. The crowd included individuals who, according to external law enforcement agencies, have engaged in violent behavior elsewhere with the explicit goal of causing disruption and with little connection to any particular cause. Incidents of violence—including shootings and sexual assaults—have occurred at other Occupy sites.
Our responsibilities for the safety of the Harvard community compelled us to take measures to ensure that individuals whose intentions were not peaceful could not encamp in Harvard Yard or create an environment of violence and intimidation that would dampen everyone’s freedom. We want to do everything possible to maintain the character of peaceful interaction that has prevailed in the Yard since the Occupy Harvard supporters erected their tents. Our decision to monitor access to the Yard was not to limit our own students and faculty but rather to ensure their safety, including that of the nearly fourteen hundred first semester freshmen who live in the close vicinity of the encampment.
From the beginning, Campus Services, Yard Operations, Harvard Police, and others have worked hard to minimize the disruption or inconvenience caused by the ID-checking system now in place. Within 24 hours of the new Yard protocols, the Campus Service Center set up a system for facilitating Yard access for guests, Extension School students, lecturers, Memorial Church parishioners, and others in need of Yard access. While the system has no doubt been imperfect, it has nonetheless facilitated access to the Yard for nearly 3,000 visitors, and has enabled hundreds of Yard-based academic programs, visits, and community events to go on as planned.
Out of our concern for the safety of those Occupiers currently camped in the Yard, and our concern for the security and well-being of those who live in the Yard, we are planning to maintain a system of ID-checking for Yard access for the time being. To further facilitate access and decrease disruption, we will be opening two additional gates during daylight hours after Thanksgiving, and will continue to do all that we can to arrange for academic and other University-related programming in the Yard. As before, access for guests can be arranged through Campus Service Center at [email protected].
Sustaining both freedom and security always requires difficult and nuanced judgments, both in a university and in the wider world. We have endeavored to make those determinations in the context of our ideals and obligations. We meet regularly to evaluate our decision, as we have no interest in restricting access to the Yard for a day longer than we believe necessary. While we believe the current Yard access protocols remain warranted, we know others can and will disagree. These issues are being debated on campus, and I view that as a good thing. Members of my administration have reached out to representatives from Occupy Harvard to discuss the balance we seek to strike, and I spoke today with several Occupy Harvard students at my regularly scheduled office hours. As President, I am deeply committed to freedom of expression: it is a fundamental university value, defining our most essential purposes. I am also committed to sustaining the environment in which that freedom can thrive. These principles have guided our decisions to date, and will guide them going forward.