Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
Harvard’s commitment to excellence in the advancement and dissemination of knowledge rests upon the foundation of the remarkable people who make up this community. We understand it is essential to open our doors widely to talent from all parts of society, including those that have historically been underrepresented on our campus. Bringing together in one place the broadest range of views, experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs offers the greatest promise of advancing the frontiers of knowledge and understanding.
We increasingly have come to recognize, however, that the benefits that flow from this diversity do not, in the words of the Report of the Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, “harvest themselves.” They require intentionality on the part of the University and by each of us. They emerge from the purposeful creation of a culture, of structures, and of habits that work continually to advance our values of belonging and inclusion, as well as from our commitment to enable all members of our community to speak, to listen, to flourish, and to reach their greatest potential. With these obligations and opportunities in mind, I charged the task force in the fall of 2016 to “recommend programs or initiatives based in an assessment of how we can make progress toward our goal of a community in which everyone may participate as a full member and everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”
I am deeply grateful for the extraordinary work of the task force and for the insightful, ambitious, and inspiring approaches reflected in its report. The task force’s mandate was broad, covering students, staff, and faculty and other academic personnel. Its articulation of four goals and four tools, within the framework of pursuing excellence on a foundation of inclusion, defines an essential path for the University to pursue. Through its eight recommendations, the task force has set out concrete steps to help start us down that path.
Because I am nearing the end of my term as president, I want to ensure that the University’s leadership transition does not delay the implementation of the task force’s recommendations. In consultation with President-elect Bacow, I have identified actions that can be taken immediately and that I hope will serve to generate momentum for the longer-term strategic work that will extend well beyond my tenure.
To serve as a point person during the presidential transition in bringing the task force report to life and ensuring its enduring impact, I have, with the enthusiastic concurrence of President-elect Bacow, asked John Silvanus Wilson to serve as senior advisor and strategist to the president. Dr. Wilson has generously committed to assist us in our work for the remainder of this academic year and all of the next. He is a talented leader, well-versed in the rhythms and values of higher education. Since September 2017, he has been one of three former presidents to be based at our Graduate School of Education as a “President in Residence,” where he is writing a book on the future of higher education, with an emphasis on black colleges. Prior to that, he has served as the president of Morehouse College, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and a senior administrator at MIT. Dr. Wilson knows Harvard well—as an alumnus of the Divinity School and the Graduate School of Education and as a member of the Board of Overseers, from which he will take a leave in order to serve in this new role. He will return to the Board of Overseers following his service as senior advisor. He is distinctively able to ensure that Harvard’s efforts to create a truly inclusive environment for all of its members, guided by the task force report, bear full fruit. Among his responsibilities will be devising the long-term structures and appropriate personnel in the central administration to oversee this work.
In consultation with President-elect Bacow, I am also taking several other immediate steps in response to the task force’s report. Some of the more significant are the following:
- I am making an initial allocation of $250,000 to support innovative ideas from across the University that seek to advance belonging and inclusion. The fund is designed to encourage experimentation by faculty, students, and staff, with an eye toward building a broader base of promising practices that can be models for other Schools and units. I have asked Dr. Wilson to take responsibility for recommending the best structure for these grants, the best mechanism for making funding decisions, and the appropriate size of such a fund for the longer term.
- The pursuit of knowledge is not a static exercise; it requires envisioning new intellectual fields, new perspectives into existing fields, and new means of interacting with a dynamic and ever-changing student body. A university achieves this in part by ensuring intellectual renewal within its faculty. I am designating $10,000,000 in presidential funds available to be committed in the coming year, in consultation with the deans, to help fund new faculty hires who have the promise to make a profound impact on our belonging and inclusion efforts through their scholarship, teaching, backgrounds, and life experiences. I have asked the senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity to take responsibility for recommending how best to structure and provide resources for these commitments and to recommend how a longer-term fund for these purposes might best be structured and supported.
- The task force report properly observes that the changing nature of our student body may require faculty to develop new skills for teaching in environments that are increasingly diverse on multiple dimensions and for facilitating difficult conversations. As the task force report so powerfully notes, true academic freedom and free speech can thrive only when individuals feel able to express their differing views in an environment of respect and generous listening. I have asked the director of the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching, building off work done at Harvard and elsewhere, to develop programs and pathways for faculty seeking pedagogical techniques and curricular approaches that can support these goals.
- The task force recommends sustained academic study in two areas. As to the first—identity, politics, and culture—I will consult with the provost and constitute a group of Harvard scholars to assess the University’s many existing strengths in the study of these topics. The group’s ultimate task is to evaluate whether different organizational structures, including the suggestion from the task force of an interfaculty initiative, might permit us to be more integrated, innovative, and effective.
The second area of study recommended by the task force focuses specifically on structures in higher education that have the potential to support belonging and inclusion for diverse populations. The task force notes that industry and the military are in many respects ahead of the academy in understanding how to design policies and organizational models that foster this work. After consultation with members of the faculty, I am persuaded that Harvard’s range of intellectual expertise would usefully be extended by bringing in other voices to determine whether and how to make this an area of sustained study. The Radcliffe Institute has agreed to host a workshop next year led by faculty from Harvard and featuring subject-matter experts from beyond the University. Their deliberations can offer thoughts and guidance about further work to be done and about the feasibility, desirability, and possible shape of a center or an ongoing interfaculty initiative.
- Harvard’s excellence rests on many pillars, among them the dedicated efforts of the administrative staff. As the task force notes, it is essential that hiring managers look broadly for talent and create an environment where employees are—and feel that they are—full members of the community. We want to equip all of Harvard’s managers with the tools and training on how best to build and nurture a diverse and inclusive work environment. I have therefore asked the executive vice president and the vice president for human resources to create a training module focused on this skill building. This module is to become an integrated part of the Universal Manager Training Program offered by the Center for Workplace Development, which to date has reached more than 1,800 managers from across the University. It will also be made available as an independent session for managers who have already completed the program. On a schedule to be determined by the executive vice president in consultation with the Schools, all hiring managers should be asked to complete the module.
- As the task force has recommended, it is important that University Health Services (UHS) conducts a strategic planning process to determine how it should address the growing need for mental health services on campus. As part of this process, the Office of the Provost and the leadership of UHS have recognized that the demographic changes in our community have implications for the delivery of mental health care. To ensure that UHS is well positioned to meet these new demands, I have provided presidential funds to support its planning process and to hire staff focused on the specific needs of diverse members of our community. The provost and I are committed to ensuring that UHS continues to receive the resources necessary to provide effective mental health services for our entire community.
- From the beginning of my presidency, I have sought to use campus space as a means of bringing together different parts of the community. From the chairs in the Yard to the Science Center Plaza, my hope has been to encourage the informal interaction through which we begin to know each other. A centerpiece of these efforts is the Smith Campus Center, scheduled to open in the fall. It is designed to be a crossroads, a central place for members of the community to gather, and it offers us the opportunity to embody a number of the task force recommendations in its identity from the outset. I have asked that its art reflect the heterogeneity of today’s Harvard. The Smith Campus Center will also be an essential means and locus for helping what the task force has called wayfinding—as an information hub that will help decode those parts of the physical campus that may be unfamiliar to a student, faculty member, or staff member whose work may keep them focused principally elsewhere on campus.
In addition, convening spaces in the Smith Campus Center have already been scheduled as locations for programs related to issues of inclusion and belonging. Professor Danielle Allen, task force co-chair and the director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is hoping to engage other parts of the University to establish monthly lunch sessions at the Smith Center on “civil disagreement”—open sessions featuring, in her words, “tough-minded conversations on hard issues where broadly divergent opinions are aired and productive discussion is fostered.” Both President-elect Bacow and I look forward to working with Professor Allen and others to imagine additional ways in which the Office of the President might help to sponsor community conversations designed with a similar goal of bringing together contrasting points of view on critical questions.
- The task force recommendations on inclusive symbols and spaces obviously extend well beyond the Smith Center, and I have asked the executive vice president and the deans to develop additional guidelines and policies designed to improve wayfinding on campus and to ensure that public art on campus reflects our commitment to belonging and inclusion.
- I take seriously the task force’s recommendation for assessment, communication, and strategic planning. I have asked the deans and the leadership of the central administration to produce plans, guided by the task force report, about how they will advance belonging and inclusion in their units. To afford time for consultation with students, faculty, and staff, these plans will be due at the end of October 2018. I endorse the use of the survey questions crafted by the task force and recognize the advantage that a common set of questions offers in charting our progress. To that end, I underscore the importance of grounding our decisions in the careful empirical work that the School-based and University-wide institutional research offices provide. Finally, I agree that the University itself should periodically report to the community on our efforts and their results, but I defer to my successor on the best means and schedule on which to do so.
Let me close by underscoring my admiration of and gratitude to the members of the task force, and in particular its indefatigable co-chairs: University Professor Danielle Allen, Professor and HKS Academic Dean Archon Fung, and Vice President Meredith Weenick. Through its work, the task force embodied Harvard’s highest ideals. It demonstrated in concrete ways how, by acting together, we can build a vibrant and inclusive community that embraces difference as essential to excellence. Its members—faculty, students, and staff from across the University—worked tirelessly over the past 18 months, and they have earned our deepest thanks.
The responsibility of building community does not alone belong to a task force or to a university president; it is incumbent on all of us to do our part, to reach across difference, to find ways to ensure that every person on this campus has the chance to find intellectual, professional, and social fulfillment. Harvard’s leadership—our boards and senior academic and administrative personnel—is committed to these goals as foundational to all that Harvard is and does, and we anticipate working with you to advance these efforts in the days and years to come. In that spirit, I look forward to the “festival rites” that will mark this year’s Commencement. When it comes time to sing our alma mater, updated at the suggestion of the task force, I will proudly give voice to the song’s new final line—and its recognition that the pursuit of truth and knowledge belongs to everyone at Harvard, from all backgrounds and beliefs.