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Open Inquiry and Academic Freedom

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
We write to announce two initiatives led by the provost to address aspects of our campus climate that are critical to the success of Harvard’s mission of teaching, learning, and research.
Success in pursuing this core mission is dependent on free, open, and constructive discourse among the University’s many members. Excellence in discovery and learning requires the ability to advance ideas and explore them fully, to challenge accepted wisdom, to disagree productively, and to recognize that we will often make mistakes as we learn. It is the University’s unwavering commitment to academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas that makes all of this possible.
In recent months and years, we have heard clearly that many in our community feel constrained in their ability to express their views on critically important questions. More and more members of our community have also asked whether and when the University should use its official voice to address matters of social and political significance. We are convening two working groups to examine these issues and recommend how the University can most effectively nurture and reinforce a culture of open inquiry, constructive dialogue, and academic freedom.
The Open Inquiry and Constructive Dialogue Working Group will examine how to foster engagement across differing viewpoints as we teach, learn, and interact more broadly with one another throughout the University. It will build on the many initiatives already under way throughout Harvard that cultivate and support constructive disagreement. Eric Beerbohm, Professor of Government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Faculty Director of the Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics, and Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Dean of Harvard Radcliffe Institute, Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, and Professor of History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, have agreed to lead this effort.
The Institutional Voice Working Group will consider whether and when our institution should speak on public issues. This working group will recommend concrete answers to questions such as: Should the University make official, institutional declarations about matters of social and political significance? Who is authorized to speak for the University on these issues, and how? Noah Feldman, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at Harvard Law School, and Chair of the Society of Fellows, and Alison Simmons, Samuel H. Wolcott Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will lead this effort.
Both working groups consist of distinguished faculty from across the University. We are grateful for their willingness to serve. In the weeks and months ahead, both groups will engage broadly with faculty, students, staff, and alumni as they explore these topics. In the meantime, should you have thoughts that you would like to share on open inquiry and constructive dialogue or on institutional voice, please write to or, respectively.
We look forward to engaging with the two working groups and the broader Harvard community as we pursue these important topics. These efforts afford us all the opportunity to join together to achieve our highest aspirations of academic excellence and to foster an even more vibrant intellectual community.
Alan M. Garber
Interim President
John F. Manning
Interim Provost