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Considering the Question of Institutional Neutrality

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

Over the past few months, we have seen renewed, vigorous, and I believe fruitful debate across higher education about the role of colleges and universities in response to social, political, and economic issues and occurrences. The debate is multi-faceted and has a number of complexities but can roughly be summarized as follows.

For some, it is important that their institution take a position on such issues or occurrences either because they believe it has a mission-driven responsibility to do so — perhaps even a moral obligation to do so — or because they want to be reassured that the institution of which they are a part sees the world as they do (i.e., shares the same values and perspectives). The risk here is that not everyone shares precisely the same values or sees the world in the same way, and issuing statements can have the effect of telling people what to think instead of allowing them to think critically and decide on positions for themselves.

For others, they believe the obligation of a college or university is instead to refrain from taking positions because doing so has the potential to influence, chill, or curb free expression and academic freedom for individual members of a campus community, and thereby runs counter to a mission-driven responsibility. The risk in not issuing statements on behalf of the institution is that the institution could be regarded as uncaring, insensitive, or, even worse, somehow complicit in a matter of deep concern to or impact on members of a community.

Clark University has no official guidelines or practice on this issue. And since I became president in July 2020, I have issued statements a number of times in response to major national or world events, including the killing of George Floyd, the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the war in Ukraine, the Supreme Court decision regarding Affirmative Action, and the attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, among others.

Today, I am appointing a committee with representatives of the Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, staff, students, and alumni, to consider how best for Clark to fulfill its mission with respect to whether, when, and why we issue official statements in response to external incidents. As part of the effort, I have explicitly asked the committee to consider the question and make recommendations as to whether Clark should adopt a policy of institutional neutrality. Such a policy, should it be recommended and adopted, would mean that I and members of my administration would ordinarily no longer issue statements like those mentioned above, with the exception of the Supreme Court ruling due to the fact that it relates directly to higher education and to Clark’s approach to undergraduate admissions. Given the focus of its work, the committee shall be known as “The Committee on the Question of Institutional Neutrality as a Policy for Clark University.” The members of the committee are listed below.

Should you have views on the issue of University statements or institutional neutrality that you wish to share with the committee, please write to I have asked the committee to complete its work and issue a report before the end of the current semester. I intend to share that report with all members of the Clark community and to take action on the committee’s recommendations through the University’s standing governance protocols.


David Fithian ’87

Members of the Committee on the Question of Institutional Neutrality as a Policy for Clark University

  • Douglas Little, Professor Emeritus, Department of History — Chair
  • Olakunle Ajayi ’24, President, Clark Graduate Student Council
  • Rob Boatright, Professor, Department of Political Science
  • Sammi Bosque ’24, President, Clark Undergraduate Student Council
  • Donella Brockington ’73, Chair of the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Outward Engagement
  • Allison Fong, Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Language, Literature, and Culture
  • Jill Friedman, Vice President of Marketing and Communications
  • Cyril Ghosh, Associate Professor and Lloyd B. Politsch ’33 Chair of Law, Department of Political Science
  • Neil Leifer ’76, adjunct faculty, School of Law, Northeastern University
  • Lee Plave ’80, Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees
  • Deb Robertson, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Biology
  • Peyton Wu, Director of Identity, Student Engagement and Access, Division of Student Success