Dear members of the Harvard Community,
Last year, I announced the formation of the Discrimination and Bullying Policy Working Groups and Steering Committee. The Working Groups, which included faculty, undergraduate and graduate student, postdoc, and staff representation from across the University, met throughout the spring semester to conduct research, gather input from the community, consider existing School-based policies and processes, deliberate, and make recommendations related to the University’s Interim Title IX Sexual Harassment and Other Sexual Misconduct policies and procedures, and to recommend new University-wide policies addressing discrimination and bullying. The Working Groups submitted their reports to the Steering Committee at the beginning of the summer, and the Steering Committee worked over the summer to review the recommendations and write their own report. The deans received all four reports in the fall. Since that time, leaders and staff across the University have worked with the deans to produce proposed policies and procedures addressing discrimination and bullying, as well as to recommend changes to the existing Interim Title IX and Interim Other Sexual Misconduct policies and procedures. These documents are all available on the policy review website.
The reports and draft policies are the product of substantial time and effort on the part of the Working Groups, Steering Committee, and School and University leadership. I am deeply grateful to everyone who contributed to this effort. They have approached these challenging topics with care, thoughtfulness, and dedication. Before turning to next steps, I would like to highlight two central messages of the Working Group and Steering Committee reports:
First, our policies and procedures must clearly and consistently demonstrate that our community will not tolerate misconduct and, when it does occur, enable us to hold members of our community accountable. These systems are most effective if they are accessible, thorough, and fair. Our community members need to be able to trust that we will all be held to the same standards, regardless of real or perceived power or status within the University.
Second, our efforts need to extend beyond systems that establish minimum standards of conduct, and we must discipline those who fail to meet those standards. We aspire to be a community that upholds the values of free expression, free inquiry, intellectual honesty, respect for the dignity of others, and openness to constructive change. While the next phase of this undertaking will focus on the policies and procedures themselves, policies and procedures alone cannot cultivate the kind of culture and community that we want to see. They set expectations that reflect our values, but as these reports emphasize, we need to go beyond these minimum standards to foster a community in which every member can thrive. We are committed to aligning our policies and procedures with education, training, and programming that facilitates and empowers community members with the support and tools needed to ensure that our community is built upon a foundation of respect for others.
There is much at stake and, as is evidenced in these reports, great diversity of thought about how we should proceed. Policies that govern our interactions with one another, accompanied by procedures that could end in serious disciplinary sanctions, invoke important questions about academic freedom and fair process. While formal procedures can appear complex and bureaucratic, the weight of their consequences demands a robust and fair process. Our procedures are not intended to, nor should they attempt to, replicate the legal system—but we also cannot ignore that the outcomes of our processes can be challenged in court and thus must consider their legal implications.
As many in our community are aware, these policies must align with applicable laws and regulations. In the case of Title IX, federal regulations place limits on how our policy and procedures are written and implemented. In 2020, the University put in place Interim Title IX and Interim Other Sexual Misconduct policies and procedures following final regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education. We are aware that further proposed revisions to federal Title IX regulations are expected in the coming weeks. While there is likely to be a lengthy comment and revision period, as was the case prior to the 2020 regulation changes, we will need to review our University policies to ensure their compliance if and when new federal regulations are implemented.
The Working Groups, Steering Committee, and School and University leaders have spent the past year grappling with these issues. Community input at this stage is critically important, and we will soon begin a comment phase during which all members of the Harvard campus community will be invited to offer their thoughts and suggestions on the proposed policies and procedures. Because we want to ensure adequate opportunities for everyone to participate, and because the end of the academic year is rapidly approaching, we plan to keep this comment phase open through the end of September. Please be on the lookout for more information from Schools and Units about opportunities to participate in discussions about these drafts. If you would prefer to send your comments to the Provost’s Office, you may do so by writing to email@example.com. There will be a wide range of views about how best to approach such important and challenging issues, but I firmly believe that the process of deliberation and debate will help us craft a set of policies that reflect and reinforce our values and advance our aspirations as a community.
Alan M. Garber