Guidance on Outside Teaching Activities

June 7, 2021

Dear colleagues,

I write to update you on Harvard’s policies concerning outside teaching activities of full-time faculty, given recent developments described below.

Harvard faculty receive many invitations to engage in educational activities outside of Harvard. Most are legitimate and can have considerable merit, enriching teaching and research and advancing Harvard’s mission to serve the world.

Over the course of the last year, many faculty have contacted my office seeking guidance about offers from external organizations—the majority from outside the US—inviting them to teach a course or provide systematic, scheduled research mentoring to college or high school students. I have received such messages myself.  These offers appear to have become more numerous in recent years and are problematic.  Many of them imply, or explicitly state, that participating students will receive some form of credential or recommendation at the end of the experience.  Some of them also suggest that participating students can expect to publish a research article in a journal under the guidance of the participating faculty member.

Although aspects of these offers are appealing, they can present serious risks to faculty members as individuals and to Harvard as an institution. The reasons generally fall into one or more of the following categories:  

  • the contracts presented to faculty are often opaque and governed by non-US legal systems;
  • the work they expect may contravene Harvard’s existing Statement on Outside Activities, (Statement), which requires outside teaching activities – no matter when they happen –  to be approved by a Dean and the Corporation;
  • many organizations misrepresent faculty members’ titles and affiliations and misuse Harvard’s name and logos, endangering the reputation of Harvard and its faculty;
  • some arrangements run the risk of violating federal funding rules, which are relevant for many of the faculty who have been approached.

The Statement’s underlying principles are clear: a full-time Harvard appointment comes with the expectation that one’s primary professional duties are to Harvard and that outside teaching activities should not compete with programs offered by the University or risk violating the public trust on which the University depends.
As the Statement acknowledges, genuinely difficult questions are likely to arise when it comes to applying these principles. We cannot prescribe a set of rigid rules for all possible circumstances.  Rather, we seek to maintain an environment in which faculty have the freedom to engage in legitimate outside activity while exercising caution in undertaking activities that could reasonably be perceived as outside teaching and will consult in advance with their Dean.

To help all of us navigate in a new landscape, and protect ourselves and Harvard by avoiding personal legal entanglements and potential violations of University policy or regulations applicable to federally funded research, my office will be taking the following steps:

  1. We are currently exploring ways to make it easier for all outside teaching that faculty wish to undertake to be reviewed for potential approval by their Dean and the Corporation, as required by the Statement on Outside Activities.
  2. I will appoint a faculty committee, to meet next academic year, to a) develop an updated review and approval process for outside activities, and b) revise the Statement into a broader University policy on outside activities and conflicts of commitment.

I recognize that this request comes at a moment when we are being asked to provide a more comprehensive accounting of all our outside activities, as the federal government increases disclosure requirements and enforcement, and tightens interpretation of existing regulations.  Given the deadlines and complexities in federal reporting, we plan to have these two processes proceed in parallel in the short term.  Bringing them together will be part of the charge for the faculty committee.

We are emerging slowly but hopefully from the pandemic into a much-changed world.  Our goal is to help our scholars and students seize new opportunities while avoiding unnecessary risks, with clearly stated policies that address the ethical, legal, and procedural questions that face universities today.

I look forward to working together to achieve this important and challenging goal.


Alan M. Garber