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.

Picketing and Distributing Literature
Picketing and protesting in an orderly way or distributing literature outside an event is acceptable unless it impedes access to the event or substantially interferes with communication inside the event. To facilitate both dissent and access to the event, Harvard Chan School may designate certain areas in close proximity to an event in which picketing or protest can occur. Distributing literature inside an open event is acceptable before the event is called to order and after the event is adjourned but not during the speaking portion of the event.

Silent or Symbolic Protest
Displaying a sign, wearing symbolic clothing, gesturing, standing, or otherwise protesting noiselessly inside an event is acceptable unless that protest interferes with an audience’s view or prevents a speaker from effectively conveying their message. Therefore, signs, prolonged standing, and other activity likely to block the view of a speaker should be confined to the back of a room.

Noise
Responding vocally to a speaker, spontaneously and temporarily, is generally acceptable. However, chanting or making other sustained or repeated noise in a manner that substantially interferes with the speaker’s communication is not permitted, whether inside or outside an event.

 Force or Violence
Using or threatening force or violence—such as assaulting a speaker or a member of an audience, or interfering with the freedom of movement of a speaker or a member of an audience—is never permitted.

Responsibility of an Audience and Host
An audience and a host (including a host organization) must respect the right to dissent. For example, audience members should not attempt to remove signs that are not blocking the view of a speaker or shout down a questioner before a question has reasonably been finished. Anyone who substantially interferes with acceptable dissent is violating these guidelines as much as a dissenter who violates the rights of a speaker or audience.

 Questions From Audience and Moderator Role
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. Harvard Chan School may determine that open and civil discussion at an event requires the use of a moderator and may designate a moderator in consultation with the host. A moderator will generally be a member of the faculty or administration of Harvard Chan School or Harvard University. Decisions at the event about how to balance the rights of a speaker with the rights of dissenters will be made by the moderator or other officials designated by Harvard Chan School or Harvard University. Failure to comply with requests by these moderators or other officials would be a violation of these guidelines.

Consequences
Any violations of these guidelines by Harvard Chan School students would represent violations of the student Code of Conduct and Harvard’s University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities, and the violators would be subject to appropriate disciplinary action. Any violations of the guidelines by staff members, faculty members, speakers, or other audience members would also be grounds for appropriate disciplinary action.