Harvard’s Silence: Critics Accuse University of Abdicating Public Responsibility


After a tumultuous 2023-2024 academic year, Harvard has made a significant move to improve its institutional image by deciding not to comment on issues beyond its academic scope.

In a letter addressed to the Harvard University community, interim President Alan Garber, along with other university administrators, announced that the institution’s leadership would refrain from making public statements that “do not directly affect the university’s core function” as an academic institution.

This decision follows a recommendation from an Institutional Voice working group, which Garber established to investigate the matter after the university faced national controversy for its public statements following the October 7 attacks by Hamas against Israel.

“The working group argues that when the University ‘speaks officially on matters outside its institutional area of expertise,’ such statements risk compromising the ‘integrity and credibility’ of our academic mission. They may also hinder open inquiry and academic freedom by making ‘it more difficult for some members of the community to express their views when they differ from the university’s official position,’” the university leaders wrote, citing the group’s report.

This conclusion is a monumental step for Harvard. A major issue in the discourse on current events has been the expectation that institutions and organizations must comment on every significant political issue and event.

In 2020, a wide range of entities—including colleges and universities, companies and corporations, professional organizations, and religious groups—felt compelled to offer their support following the riots ignited by George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. The expectation of making such statements was so high that failure to do so often led to public backlash and boycott calls.

Three years later, as campus protests erupted supporting the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, Harvard and then-President Claudine Gay faced immense pressure to issue a public statement, which only further embroiled the Ivy League institution in controversy.

Harvard has never been obligated to issue statements about current events. It is not a governmental body, political party, or policy think tank. Its primary role is to provide students with an education that enables their success in life, not to comment on riots or terrorist attacks occurring halfway around the world.

Commenting on issues of public interest generally forces the institution to take a side in a conflict of ideas, making it a fundamentally political action that subjects it to political criticism. For a school that presents itself as an arena for all ideas and viewpoints, issuing political statements can severely damage this reputation.

By refraining from commenting on current events and issues, Harvard could potentially rehabilitate the partisan image it has developed over the years. This approach is one that other colleges and universities might consider emulating.

Jeremiah Poff
Jeremiah Poff
Jeremiah Poff is a commentary writer. Raised in Virginia, Jeremiah previously worked as an education reporter. Prior to that, he worked for the Cardinal Newman Society, the Department of Education, and The College Fix. He graduated from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2019 with a degree in journalism and a minor in human life studies.

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