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Our Shared Responsibilities

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

In recent weeks, tragic events abroad have inflamed divisions on our campus. While free inquiry remains a bedrock academic value, Harvard will not tolerate any activity that violates the safety of our community members, and we will not hesitate to enforce our policies and hold those who engage in such conduct accountable.

This idea is not a new one. Fifty-three years ago, Harvard had the courage and clarity to adopt the University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities—a seminal document that still guides us. Many in our community may be unaware of the Statement, and I urge you to read it in full.

The document emerged in the late 1960s, during a time of unrest not unlike today. Amid that discord, our predecessors affirmed the rights vital to academic freedom, while also extracting from the tumult an opportunity for reflection, renewal, and growth. The Statement protects free expression, while articulating the special duties we owe one another as members of a scholarly community. It recognizes that unfettered rights, absent responsibility, tend toward chaos.

The Statement affirms the liberties that animate our mission—the right to speak and be heard, to question and dissent, to pursue truth through discovery. But it also outlines the responsibilities required to exercise those freedoms—to debate with empathy, to protest with care, to treat all with dignity. Protest and dissent have an honored place here, but not behavior that infringes on the physical safety and security of others. No one at Harvard has the right to threaten or endanger others, under any circumstance. This is a basic prerequisite for education and discovery, and on this point, the Statement is unequivocal.

As President, I take these rights and responsibilities seriously, especially in divisive times. Our University’s purpose is to advance human knowledge for society’s betterment. The University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities establishes the conditions in which such work can thrive. It serves as a foundation for other policies, procedures, and programs, including the steps we take to ensure the safety and security of our campus and to support community wellbeing. Meredith Weenick, Executive Vice President, will write later today with information on safety and security, and resources available to our community.

In the days ahead, I ask you to read the Statement’s words, which are as resonant and important today as when they were first codified. More importantly, I ask that you honor them. Exercise your freedoms, but do so with wisdom and respect. Defend your ideas, but not at the cost of another’s welfare. And know that any act that violates the rights of other members of our community not only tears at our social fabric but carries serious consequences.

By upholding our enduring ideals—academic freedom, reasoned dissent, respect for the dignity of others—we fulfill our University’s purpose and create a safe, inclusive environment where open inquiry can flourish.