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Harvard’s Essential Values “In These Unsettling Times”

12.7.16

Drew Faust

Photograph by Rose Lincoln/Harvard News Office


Drew Faust

Photograph by Rose Lincoln/Harvard News Office

President Drew Faust customarily presides over meetings of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). At the December 6 meeting, she chose to make the following remarks, highlighting issues of concern to the University in light of the recent U.S. presidential election and possible ensuing changes in national policy. Harvard Magazine asked to publish these remarks—focusing on such matters as the education of undocumented students, challenges to research funding and the status of endowments, and the fundamental values of a research university—as a service to the wider Harvard community and other interested readers. Following her text, we also reproduce her recent messages to the community, both of which are referred to in her December 6 remarks. The Editors

December 6 Faculty of Arts and Sciences remarks

Since we last met, the United States has chosen a new president. A number of the views articulated and policies proposed in the course of the campaign and the ensuing weeks pose significant challenges for Harvard and its most deeply held commitments. At the same time, eruptions of frightening expressions of hatred, bias, and violence have targeted members of our own community as well as thousands more across the country. 

I want to say a few words today about how the University is responding to these new realities and to reaffirm our essential values and responsibilities as an academic institution in these unsettling times. I have distributed two messages—on November 15 and 28 [both appear below]—designed to begin to address some of these questions. The most recent message considered the possibility of more aggressive enforcement of federal immigration laws and detailed the heightened support and protection we are offering students, faculty and staff. I urge you to read those communications if you have not already. As an early and fervent public supporter of the DREAM Act, I feel particular concern about our undocumented students and as an update to my letter last week, I want to report that I have been in contact over the past few days with legal advisors, with members of Congress and individuals in the Executive Branch on behalf of these vulnerable members of our community. Our support for them is strong and unequivocal.

Other measures and policies under discussion concern us as well. The resources provided for research through agencies like NIH [the National Institutes of Health] and NSF [the National Science Foundation] are critical to Harvard. Last year, we received $597 million in federal funding for research. We will be very focused on making the case for continuing and indeed increasing resources for research with those likely to influence policy in Washington. Sustaining this support is imperative not just for the work so many of you do but for the discoveries, inventions, cures, and engines of economic growth that arise from both basic and applied research to benefit society as a whole. 

As you may have read, some members of Congress last spring requested detailed information from universities with large endowments. While it is unclear what form specific proposals might take, recent information from Washington suggests that this focus will continue with efforts in the new Congress that would seek to tax or otherwise constrain the use of our endowment [see this dispatch from Inside Higher Ed, with links to the underlying proposals]. This would be a matter of gravest concern as Harvard’s endowment provides 36 percent of the University’s annual operating budget and 50 percent of operating funds for FAS. We, along with other institutions, will continue to vigorously make the case for the positive effect our endowment has in areas such as student aid, path breaking research, libraries and museums, and support for faculty. 

We are committed to attracting the most talented students and faculty from across the world. This means that immigration policies have a direct effect on our fundamental purposes, and we will work to ensure that Harvard remains an attractive—and available—destination for scholars near and far.

As additional policy proposals emerge relevant to Harvard’s research and teaching mission, we will be engaged in representing the interests of the University and the members of its community. I anticipate that this work will consume a considerable portion of my time and attention in the months to come. 

An early twentieth-century civil rights activist named Nannie Helen Burroughs once remarked that education is “democracy’s life insurance.” I invoke those words often, and today I do so again in a spirit that goes beyond what Burroughs intended—though in a manner I am confident she would approve. I would like us to think in these times about our responsibilities as a university to serve democracy by striving to be a kind of life insurance. There is of course the sense that I think Burroughs meant—by educating students with critical minds, discerning judgment, broad understanding, and respect for their fellow citizens and for the rule of law. 

But our responsibility is not just for the students we send into the world. It is for who we are and what we do here. Veritas is our motto, yet we find ourselves in a time where truth and facts seem hardly to matter. We must uphold and make the case for the commitment to reason, truth and the power of knowledge. We must be unwavering in the rigor with which we pursue new insights and test our hypotheses, and we must be open to the kind of debate, difference and variety of viewpoints that can change and strengthen ideas. 

To create a community in which individuals dare to debate and disagree we must also build an environment of belonging and mutual respect. As a time when we read about—indeed witness—escalating incidents of hatred and violence—ethnic, religious, racial and political—we need to insist on a different way of being together. More now than ever, we must advance our aspiration to be a place where every member of our community, regardless of race, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation, can thrive by having the full opportunity to engage in all that Harvard offers. These efforts take on a deeper significance for those members of our community who have been specially burdened by the troubling rhetoric and events of recent months—Muslims, immigrants, ethnic minorities among them. We must live our values and demonstrate what it means to be a community enriched not embattled by difference and diversity. 

I am confident we can be that place and both by our example and in our academic work extend those values in myriad ways beyond our own walls as we welcome the challenge for the University to serve as a critical element of “democracy’s life insurance.” 

We face the future with new responsibilities. When I visited South Africa in 2009, I was struck by how everyone I met in that fledgling democracy felt a kind of urgency about the nation’s future trajectory as well as a sense that what each individual did had direct implications not just for its success but for its very survival. Nothing seemed assured. In contrast, I thought to myself, we Americans seemed to take our government and political order for granted. This is a time of profound change in America, a time when we are called on to abandon such complacency. I have enormous faith in all of you and in Harvard as an institution to rise to that challenge.

President Faust's Community Message, November 15

It has been one week since the end of the most divisive and contentious election any of us has ever known. Whatever our personal political views, emotions run high and feelings deep in what for many is a challenging and uncertain time. And not just acrimonious words but escalating numbers of cruel and frightening incidents—around the country, including on college campuses—now threaten our profoundest national and human values.

Although there is much about which we may differ and disagree—among ourselves and with others beyond Harvard—we must affirm the values of inclusion and belonging, and exemplify the respect for individuals and ideas that is the essence of an academic community. We must condemn and resist hatred, intimidation, and intolerance in every form. Working together, we have an obligation to provide all members of our community with an environment in which they can live in safety and dignity.

I have necessarily regarded this moment not just through the eyes of a university president, but also those of a historian—as a scholar keenly aware of how history turns on contingency, of how much what each one of us says and does matters. This is especially true in times of upheaval and change. We cannot shrink from—or escape—our responsibilities to both the present and the future. Violence, hatred, and divisiveness put all of us at risk; they put our society at risk; they put the very idea and purpose of universities at risk. In the face of such challenges, we must together demonstrate what it means to be a community enriched, not embattled, by difference and diversity; we must listen generously to one another across disagreement; we must model reasoned and respectful discourse and argument; we must all support those in our community who may feel vulnerable or under attack. And together we must use our capacities and our values—our important work as scholars, educators, and learners; our shared commitment to truth, understanding, and compassion—to help heal the wounds and divisions this election has so powerfully brought to light. Harvard has done this “through change and through storm” for almost four hundred years. Now it is our turn and our responsibility.

President Faust's Community Message, November 28

In my message of November 15, I urged the Harvard community to affirm fundamental values of inclusion and belonging, and to model the respect for people and ideas that rest at the heart of any academic community. Our responsibility to each other requires us to demonstrate that we are enriched by difference and respectful disagreement, and to support any individuals in our community who feel vulnerable or unsafe.

In the days since I sent this message, there has been growing concern about the effect more aggressive enforcement of federal immigration laws could have on many students, scholars, and staff at Harvard, especially on students who are undocumented.

I write today to reaffirm our clear and unequivocal support for these individuals, who are part of the fabric of University life, and to share information about related University resources and evolving plans intended to ensure we continue to foster an environment where all at Harvard can thrive.

Some have asked about the role of the institution in enforcing federal immigration laws. Last week, Chief Francis D. Riley of the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) issued a message restating the HUPD’s practice of not inquiring about the immigration status of faculty, students, or staff and noting that the department is not involved in enforcing federal immigration laws. This is consistent with the policies of the cities of Boston and Cambridge. Furthermore, the University does not and will not voluntarily share information on the immigration status of undocumented members of our community. And, as a matter of longstanding policy, law enforcement officials seeking to enter campus are expected to check in first with the HUPD and, in cases involving the enforcement of the immigration laws, will be required to obtain a warrant.

In addition to these commitments we will also be supplementing existing legal resources available to the community. The University will provide additional support to expand the work of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, based at Harvard Law School. In addition to being a confidential place where members of the community can turn for legal advice, the clinic is planning a series of information sessions in the weeks to come. Along with expertise on our own faculty, the University will also invite immigration experts to campus who can inform members of our community about the potential implications of various policy options that the new administration might pursue. As circumstances unfold and as members of our community articulate new or different concerns, we will respond with appropriate actions and resources.

We will also continue Harvard’s advocacy for government policies that advance the interests of undocumented students. I recently joined more than 200 college and university presidents in voicing support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which allows undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before turning 16 to enroll in college. These students have made—and continue to make—outstanding contributions to our community. I will make the case for them, and the benefits they receive as a result of DACA, with government leaders in Washington, DC, in the weeks and months ahead. I will continue my active support for the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would provide a permanent solution for undocumented students. Harvard was an early and strong advocate of both the DREAM Act and DACA, and we will continue to make every effort to advance their goals. We will also sustain our existing financial aid policies without reference to immigration status.

Finally, while Harvard College and the graduate and professional schools have made a variety of important resources available, we will also create a single, University-wide point of connection for students and administrators seeking information or guidance around undocumented students and other immigration concerns. This work will be led by my chief of staff, Lars Madsen, and I have asked him to serve as a point person to coordinate these efforts across the University.

While the immigration policies of the new administration remain undefined, we recognize and share the deep anxiety that campaign rhetoric and proposals have created for many members of the Harvard community. Their cause—the opportunity they have earned through hard work to pursue their research, teaching, and education at Harvard—is our cause. We stand with them as one community in support of each other, in support of the values we share, and in support of a commitment to inclusion and belonging that must be at the core of our institution.

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