Harvard’s new policy about campus speakers raises questions that it won’t answer

Harvard’s new policy about campus speakers raises questions that it won’t answer

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Harvard recently introduced a new policy requiring moderators at events with "high-profile, controversial or VIP" speakers, but it doesn't explain who falls under these categories.

The policy is based on a 1990 policy and is not available to the public. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education published a transcribed version of it from a “photograph of the original.”

According to the Harvard Crimson, which first reported on the new policy, students or student groups must give a one month notice that certain individuals will be on campus or for events "where the principles of free speech have the potential to be compromised." The Dean of Students Office will then decide whether the event needs a moderator, whose job would be to remove disruptive members of the audience via a “two-strike policy” or cancel the event if they deem there is a “clear threat” of violence.

You can read the old policy here. According to it, the university would proceed "normally," if the speaker is considered to be “neutral and non-partisan."

The issue: Some of the terms in the policy are raising questions because of their ambiguity. Who is a "high-profile, controversial or VIP"  figure? How would the moderator determine there is a definite threat of violence? How do students know the moderator is "neutral" or that an event could "comprimise" free speech?

Harvard isn't making things any clearer. The College Fix says they've tried to get answers for "nearly three weeks," but the school has "ignored repeated requests for clarification and even to provide the policy in full."

Critics: The Crimson editorial board called the new policy “paternalistic, ineffective, and contrary to the College’s stated goals of free speech ... We are also concerned that this policy will unequally affect conservative speakers, who are more likely to be protested against on campus."

The rule “appears to be a reasonable effort at protecting the free speech rights of both speaker and audience by prohibiting the heckler’s veto while allowing space for brief heckling that is itself protected speech,” wrote FIRE’s Ryne Weiss, chief research officer to the president. But, “who is and is not controversial is largely subjective, and where ambiguity and subjectivity exist in policy, bias and disparate enforcement often creep in."

He also wrote that the "waiting period" is outdated in the world of social media and only puts additional restrictions on students.

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