Combating bias and protecting free speech, protest, and dissent on campus

To the Harvard Chan community,

I hope you had a chance to read the recent emails from Interim President Alan Garber on combating bias and protecting free speech, protest, and dissent on campus.

The first note announced the Presidential Task Force on Combating Antisemitism and the Presidential Task Force on Combating Islamophobia and Anti-Arab Bias, which is co-chaired by a distinguished member of our faculty, Professor Wafaie Fawzi. Both task forces have broad mandates and will play vital roles in identifying, examining, and developing approaches to combat bias across the University.

The second email reinforced our commitment to free expression, including protest and dissent, as integral to the values of Harvard Chan School and Harvard University. It also explained that the School and the University can regulate the time, place, and manner of protest to ensure that such activities do not disrupt our core activities of teaching, learning, and research. The University and School guidance on this point are viewpoint-neutral and carefully designed to balance the right to protest with our responsibility to carry out our mission as an educational institution.

Please take the time to review Harvard Chan School’s specific guidelines on protest and dissent, which include a frank discussion on the challenges, as well as the vital importance, of open debate. If you have questions about our policies, please reach out to Executive Dean for Administration Kate Calvin.

As we reflect on these announcements, I want to make clear that there is no conflict between protecting free speech and combating bias. Those goals are sometimes presented in tension with one another. In fact, they are intertwined. We protect free speech to encourage a robust exchange of ideas — including calling out and countering bias. And we combat bias to ensure that every member of our community, including those in the minority on any given issue, is free to share their views and complete their academic pursuits. That is why we prioritize both values. Both are fundamental — for myself, for Harvard Chan School, and for the University.

Balancing these interlocking priorities can be challenging at times. Some speech may be offensive, even painful, to some in our community. Yet it’s still protected — unless it crosses the line into harassment, discrimination, or bullying, or intrudes on spaces that are set aside for our faculty, staff, and students to work and learn without disruption.

Navigating these issues successfully requires intentionality and skill. I will be back in touch next week with additional thoughts about our next steps as a community.



Andrea Baccarelli, MD, PhD
Dean of the Faculty
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health