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Students walk on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in February 2008. (DINA RUDICK/DINA RUDICK/THE BOSTON GLOBE)
Students walk on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., in February 2008. (DINA RUDICK/DINA RUDICK/THE BOSTON GLOBE)

Harvard asks students to sign a 'kindness pledge' Add to ...

Anyone who’s been shoved by a rushing stranger on a busy street or cut off by a passing motorist can relate to the idea that, sometimes, the world doesn’t seem like a nice place.

Now, officials at Harvard are taking an unusual, even controversial, step to encourage civility and camaraderie on campus. They are asking freshmen to sign what’s being called a kindness pledge, which states that students will uphold the values of the institution and “sustain a community characterized by inclusiveness and civility.”

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Anyone who signs also commits to making Harvard a place where “the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.”

Not everyone is on board with the idea, the Boston Globe reports. Former Harvard College dean Harry Lewis wrote on his blog that the pledge “is unwise, and sets a terrible precedent.”

Prof. Lewis explained that signing a pledge goes against the idea that students should have complete freedom of thought. The pledge is a commitment to view the world a certain way and uphold certain values – which flies in the face of many ideals espoused by the pursuit of higher education.

“It is a promise to control one's thoughts,” he wrote. “A student would be breaking the pledge if she woke up one morning and decided it was more important to achieve intellectually than to be kind.” He also noted that Harvard has rejected pledges and oaths throughout its history.

The pledge has stirred up quite a bit of controversy and protests from others as well.

Defenders of the pledge, however, say a commitment to civility actually enhances the learning experience and fosters a better environment.

Is a “kindness pledge” a good idea? Should everyone be asked to sign a commitment to treat others better?

 

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