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President Bacow’s statement at FAS faculty meeting

Response by President Bacow to a question from Professor Eric Nelson at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting on May 3, 2022 regarding recent events on campus and an editorial in The Harvard Crimson on BDS.

Thank you for your question, Professor Nelson. First let me say that I will not comment on the Crimson editorial.  The Crimson is a student newspaper.  It is independent of the university, and, I think it is fair to say, the Crimson does not represent, or certainly the editorial board does not represent, the views of the university.  The Crimson editorial board represents the views of the Crimson editorial board.  We believe in a free press.  They are entitled to publish what they wish and to share their views as they may.

That said, I think that there are other principles at play here.  Let me try to speak to some of them.  First, I would hope that every member of our community would condemn hatred and bigotry on our campus in any form, whether or not it appears as a swastika or a noose.  Second, I think it is fair to say that I have been disappointed in the quality of discourse that we have seen expressed on campus on a variety of issues.  I would hope that we could model the behavior that we would like to see in the rest of the world when we discuss difficult, challenging issues. Universities are places where we should be able to debate the great issues of the day and to do so with civility and respect.  Calls to endorse individual or particular positions on these issues do not encourage debate; they actually quash it. 

Finally, let me speak to another issue that your question raises, Professor Nelson.  I have spoken about and will continue to defend vigorously the right and vital importance of scholarly exchange on this campus and on all university campuses.  I have tried to do this in a number of different forums, such as support for the Scholars at Risk Program, which brings academic peers to Harvard seeking refuge from persecution and war.  I have advocated against restrictions on international scholarly exchange that have been proposed by our own government in Washington, D. C., especially when it has been targeted at scholars from China.  As an institution we have to stand unambiguously for the importance of free exchange of both scholars and ideas.  Any suggestion of targeting or boycotting a particular group because of disagreements over the policies pursued by their governments is antithetical to what we stand for as a university.  Who amongst us has never disagreed with the policies of our own government?  Who amongst us would want to be judged or excluded from scholarly discussion, from debate, from participation in activities based upon positions taken by our government?  So, let me be unambiguously clear: I think academic boycotts have absolutely no place at Harvard, regardless of who they target. Thank you.