Guidelines for Open Debate, Protest, and Dissent

All the members of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health community are reminded of our commitment to maintaining an academic environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas and protects the rights of individuals to express their views within the bounds of reasoned dissent. At the School, we are engaged in many areas of study and concern where there are often strongly held and divergent opinions. To foster an environment of open and civil discussion, the following guidelines frame the expectations for members of the Harvard Chan School’s community during events, meetings, and other occasions apart from class sessions when speakers present their views—at the School or elsewhere at Harvard University. The guidelines here draw heavily on guidelines that have been used by the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The right to dissent is the complement of the right to speak, but these rights need not occupy the same forum at the same time. A speaker is entitled to communicate her or his message to an audience during the allotted time, and all members of the audience are entitled to hear the message and see the speaker during that time; therefore, dissenters must not substantially interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or an audience’s ability to see and hear the speaker. Dissenters are entitled to express their objections in other ways: When an event is closed, dissent by nonattendees is limited to activity outside the event that does not impede access to the event or substantially interfere with communication inside; when an event is open, the acceptable form of dissent depends on whether a dissenter is inside or outside the event and on whether the dissenter is acting before, after, or during the event. Moreover, if the format of an event—as decided ahead of time with any guest speakers—includes open Q&A, the Harvard Chan School requests that event organizers arrange for a moderator so as to encourage a balanced set of questions or points of view from the audience.