A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

To the HKS Community,
As some of you know, a group of protesters disrupted a class at Harvard Kennedy School last week. In the wake of that protest, three points deserve emphasis:

First, the Kennedy School encourages debate and dissent as important aspects of speech and learning, and protest is one form of such dissent. We have experienced many protests at the School that contribute to our constructive discourse, and I expect that tradition will continue. Indeed, I often try to speak with protesters myself because hearing their perspectives strengthens my own understanding of the issues at hand.

Second, protesters at the Kennedy School do not have a right to impede other people’s ability to speak and be heard. Such interference is contrary to Harvard’s University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities and HKS’s own policies regarding public events, which state: “Dissenters must not substantially interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or an audience’s ability to see and hear the speaker.” Last week’s disruption was especially egregious because it interfered with a class session in a classroom (which is not a public space that visitors have a right to enter, much less interfere with), it was carried out primarily by an external group (who should not have been in our buildings at all), and it was aggressive and physically intimidating (which is never acceptable). 

We cannot and will not tolerate such disruption. An investigation of what happened is ongoing; we will pursue disciplinary action against any Harvard students whom we identify as being involved, and appropriate treatment of any identified non-Harvard participants will be handled by Harvard’s lawyers and police department. In addition, we are adopting new protocols to respond more quickly to any future attempts to interfere with a class. Anyone who was frightened by what happened and needs someone to talk with should reach out to their program director (for students), their HR contact (for staff), the academic deans’ office (for faculty), or Harvard’s Counseling and Mental Health Service (for all).

Third, ensuring that class time is not interrupted is fundamental to the Kennedy School because our faculty have so much to offer our students (and our students to offer each other). Although faculty members’ achievements and roles speak for themselves, the nature of last week’s disruption impels me to be explicit: Professor Meghan O’Sullivan, in whose class the disruption occurred, has been a dedicated teacher and mentor here for many years. She has a distinguished record of public service as a diplomat and policymaker, and her expertise is sought by leaders from both major political parties in this country and from leaders in international relations from other countries as well. We are all fortunate to be able to learn from Professor O’Sullivan.