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Public Safety and Community Wellbeing

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

I write to share with you an independent review of the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) undertaken at my request earlier this year. Matthew Barge, Brenda Bond and Ronald Davis, outside experts retained by the University who reported directly to Executive Vice President Katie Lapp, took great care to learn about our community, and I am deeply appreciative of their efforts to understand the HUPD and its role on our campus. They have developed recommendations that balance pragmatism and idealism in pursuit of a better future for all of us, and I hope you will read the report in its entirety.

Chief among the shared responsibilities identified by the review is defining what it means for each member of our community to feel—and to be—safe and secure at Harvard. The foundation of that effort must be an open conversation about race and policing, including a robust consideration of structures of power that reinforce and perpetuate subordination in this country and elsewhere.

This is a task for all of us. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I reflected on my own interactions with law enforcement over the past half-century. They were uniformly unthreatening, mostly perfunctory, and—to be completely frank—almost entirely forgettable. I wish the same were true for all of my colleagues and friends, but many of them shared with me personal stories of untenable interactions with law enforcement that rightly supplanted trust with disappointment, fear, and indignation. Any hope of building a better University must necessarily flow from nurturing a deep care for one another. Only then will we be capable of applying our extraordinary ambition and creativity to change the status quo.

Before the academic year is out, a Facilitating Group, described here in more detail by Executive Vice President Lapp, will begin developing a comprehensive plan to reimagine public safety and community wellbeing at Harvard. The work of engaging students, faculty, and staff across the University will take time if it is to be done well. In the interim, near-term changes to the ways in which the HUPD operates and interacts with the community, including the establishment of an Advisory Board and the creation of a public dashboard, will create opportunities for increased accountability and transparency as we continue our nationwide search for a chief of police.

As I have noted in the past, we must always strive to be better not just for our community but also for communities throughout the nation. Harvard has a chance to encourage and welcome conversations that are difficult but critical, to amplify voices that are often marginalized or silenced, to seek truth in service of safety and security for all. It is important—and necessary—work too long deferred in this country.

The freedom at the end of our journey will make it possible for each of us to be our best—and to make the world better than it is today. I hope you will join me in that effort, and I thank those of you who have already done so much to move the University forward in this regard. 

All the best,