Dean Martha Minow Reaffirms Harvard Law’s Commitment to Free Expression in a Letter to the Community

On April 1, Dean Martha Minow sent the email below to the entire law school community, reaffirming Harvard’s commitment to free expression and freedom of conscience. Earlier this week, students from Reclaim Harvard Law repeatedly removed critical signs posted in “Belinda Hall.”

Dear members of the Law School community:

As our community has focused on questions of race and inclusion, which we regard as issues of pressing importance to the nation and our community, the Law School has respected the extraordinary use of the WCC lounge as a space for protest and discussion. When a shared space is made open for such a purpose, even temporarily, the values of free exchange that define an academic community require that every member of the community has the right to use that shared space to express views, to express differences, to engage in debate. That freedom to disagree makes us stronger and better. It is essential to the integrity and success of an academic communityand especially to members and future members of the legal communitythat we operate on the bedrock foundations of openness and free debate.

Harvard University guarantees these rights of free exchange to all members of this community. In its Statement of Rights and  Responsibilities, the University places “special emphasis” on certain values that it deems “essential to its nature as an academic community.” Chief  among them are “freedom of speech and academic freedom, freedom from personal force and violence, and freedom  of movement.” The Statement makes clear that “[i]nterference with any of these freedoms must be regarded as a serious violation of the personal rights upon which the community is based.” In its published Protest and Dissent Guidelines, the Law School has interpreted and implemented these rights by providing that “[u]sing or threatening force or violence, such as defacing a sign or assaulting a speaker or a member of the audience, is never permitted. Any interference with freedom of movement or with freedom from force or violence is a serious violation of personal rights.”

We reaffirm our commitment to the values of free exchange and free speech for all members of the Law School community. Protection of these values means that in shared spaces, all students must be able to voice their opinions and express their dissent equally. To that end, the Law School will take the following steps:

1. The Law School will shortly provide a centrally located space for students to post their opinions, express their dissent, voice their protest, and exchange views. We will establish guidelines, moreover, to ensure that all students have access to this forum.

2. The Law School will take steps to ensure that students and student organizations have ample opportunities to use space to engage in study, discussion, teach-ins, and other forms of collective speech and action.

In the interim, we will continue to make the WCC lounge available as a temporary space for the community to engage in speech. But that space must be available to all who wish to use it for such expression. We hope and believe that our community will affirm the values, norms, and policies that we have articulated. Blocking those who wish to post signs or tearing down the signs of others violates those values, norms, and policies. At the same time, we are committed to using available procedures and protocols to ensure that these values are observed and respected at the Law School.

Martha Minow
Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor
Harvard Law School

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