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OPINION: Harvard University’s new policy on political positions is detrimental to students

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Harvard’s new political stance policy stems from the conflict on campus caused by the ongoing Israel-Hamas War.

When choosing where I plan to apply to colleges next year, I not only look at the educational and social experiences offered by a university, but also the school’s values. I consider whether or not that school gives time off for Jewish holidays, if they celebrate diversity and other important things. This is why Harvard University’s new policy on political positions does not align with what I look for in a school.

On May 28, Harvard University’s Institutional Voice Working Group released a statement, saying that Harvard would now avoid taking positions on matters that are not “relevant to the core function of the university.”

Harvard has been a hotspot for conflict regarding the Israel-Hamas War since the conflict began on Oct. 7, leading to this new policy. Specifically, Harvard’s President Claudine Gay testified in congress regarding anti-semetism on the school’s campus, and her controversial response led to her resignation. Additionally, the campus was one of many schools across the country where students in support of Palestine set up a multi-day encampment. These conflicts led to the university’s recent statement.

One specific guideline Harvard set as a part of the statement was that the university would no longer release statements of empathy for victims on either side of any conflicts, as they did for the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Harvard is just one of a few schools to institute a policy like this, with other big name universities being Northwestern University, University of Chicago and Stanford University.

This decision makes the college process much more difficult for many individuals, including myself. This policy means that in future conflicts, students will be unable to fully stand with their beliefs, as they will be unable to choose institutions that reflect those beliefs. Additionally, students will have to stand up for their beliefs without support, which can be isolating.

Firstly, policies like this show a lack of empathy in the university leaders which is unattractive as I am looking for colleges. Knowing that the school I am attending will be unwilling to be sympathetic with murder – on both sides of the conflict – makes me feel detached from the university.

Universities not making statements on political issues is also a problem because it results in a lack of guidance to students, politically and morally speaking. Students attend college to learn about and educate themselves, but not having guidance may make it more difficult to do so. I am not arguing that universities must take political stances, however they must draw the line between politics and morals.

“I would much rather know that a university does not align with my values than be left to guess what my future school believes in. 

— Stella Muzin

Additionally, college is an extreme financial investment, and it is important to me as a student that I am aware of who my money is going to. Having the peace of knowing that the institution – to which you pay upwards of 55,000 dollars yearly in Harvard’s case – is making decisions you align with using that money is a significant aspect of choosing a college.

For example, Evergreen State College is a school which made the decision to completely divest financially from Israel. As a zionist, this would highly impact my decision to attend such a school, as I would be uncomfortable knowing my tuition was contributing to anti-Israel beliefs.

Another problem with a university policy of not taking a stance on political matters is that it stops the potential for charity and relief projects coming directly from universities. During the heat of the Russia-Ukraine war, Stetson University, along with many other schools, created programs specifically designed to open doors to Ukrainians who were displaced by the war. If these universities were to have had a policy similar to that of Harvard’s new one, they would have been unable to create these programs.

Overall, a university must be strong in its ideology, enough so to stand up for its values even when they are controversial. I would much rather know that a university does not align with my values than be left to guess what my future school believes in.

This story appeared in the Lion’s Tale, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Rockville., Md., on May 29, 2024.

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