Subject: The Vigil in the Yard
President Drew Gilpin Faust
I’ve had occasion a number of times in the past few days to walk through the Yard, most recently tonight at 7pm, and observe our students and colleagues in their ‘occupy’ activity – which I might think is better called a Vigil of concern and for justice. Just a few comments.
First, knowing only a small number of those present, it seems to me that these are among the members of our community of whom we should be most proud. They are concerned for the more vulnerable and less powerful members of Harvard, and are going to considerable inconvenience to show solidarity. Harvard is about many things, but this commitment is something of which we should all be very proud. It reminds us of why we are here.
Second, it is timely that this Vigil occurs now, as your Review of Religion at Harvard committee does its work, as the search for a replacement of Peter Gomes proceeds, and as you work with HDS in the selection of a new Dean. Surely, the major portion of these activities of review and search are academic and to some extent business-like, but just as surely, they raise the questions about what kind of human and spiritual community we are: how is religion to be taught and studied at Harvard? who shall preach, with which values and questions, in Memorial Church? how does the modern Harvard understand HDS and its complex values and goals? what standing does HDS – where religion is studied, but also lived and prayed and tested in times of trouble – have at Harvard today? Such questions concern us all, but those keeping vigil in the Yard remind us in a simple, honest, and direct manner that religion at Harvard is to be spoken, taught, studied, analyzed – but also lived on the edges, where human needs press upon us. The keepers of this Vigil, tonight in the dark, shed light on what we are about when we consider religion, the teaching and preaching of it, at Harvard today, and I am grateful to them for this timely reminder.
Third, I realize that one of your responsibilities is to maintain order and security at the university, and care for the well-being particularly of those who reside in the Yard. Some security is therefore necessary, and I appreciate your care for this matter, as the Vigil proceeds. But even to me as a member of the Harvard community, who knows much of what is happening, the security seems unduly strict, disproportionate, unnecessary. Indeed, it would not be appropriate to allow everyone and anyone to camp out in the Yard, but nevertheless it is also for the well-being of the university to make clear, as I stated above, that those keeping Vigil are dear and welcome members of the community, some of our best, and not a security challenge. Monitor the site yes, but soon enough, please re-open the gates.
Fourth, it was not clear from my brief conversations with those keeping vigil whether members of your staff, or indeed you yourself, are in conversation with them about their concerns. I do hope very much that you make sure that university officials are in conversation with this small community in the Yard, and likewise make it clear to them that their concerns about a just wage and other matters are being taken seriously by the university. Showing up and talking with them may be the best strategy of all, for a secure and tranquil Harvard. I hope you do take some time, if you have not done so already, to meet with those keeping Vigil.
Thanks very much, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to discuss any of these points more in depth.
Francis X. Clooney, SJ
Parkman Professor of Divinity
Director of the Center for the Study of World Religions