Invitation Protocol & Visitor Guidelines

NEW UPDATE: Inviting Heads of State, Dignitaries and Other High-Profile Visitors to Speak in Virtual Harvard Events

Since March 2020, Harvard and institutions around the world have faced unprecedented challenges to the ways we gather together to share ideas and address the pressing issues of our time.  The University Marshal’s Office has previously issued university-wide Invitation Protocol & Visitor Guidelines which pertain to invitations to heads of state, dignitaries and other high-profile visitors for speaking engagements on Harvard’s physical campus. Here the Marshal’s Office would like to remind the university community of the original intent of these guidelines, and how they still should be adhered to in the current, virtual or hybrid environment.

  1. Any invitation to a current head of state or government to participate in a virtual, Harvard-sponsored event must first be cleared with the University Marshal’s Office. This applies to any school, department, center, institute, program or Harvard-affiliated organization. The Marshal’s Office will provide advice and consult with the Office of the President on any such invitation. 
  2. The Marshal’s Office should also be the first point of contact for any school, department, center, institute, program, or organization that would like to invite any other senior US or foreign government officials to speak at a Harvard-sponsored virtual event. This is to avoid conflicting invitations, to ensure a proper historical record is kept, and to allow the Marshal’s Office to provide advice and assistance on matters of protocol and appropriate procedures for issuing such invitations.

In order to ensure that all events sponsored by Harvard are executed at the highest level, we urge virtual event hosts to make every reasonable effort to ensure that these events include:

  • A requirement that all guests pre-register, to ensure that only those who are eligible receive the link to participate;
  • A moderator for the event with whom the speaker is comfortable;
  • An opportunity for Q&A with the audience following the speaker’s remarks;
  • A professional backdrop and setting;
  • Ample time and effort devoted to pre-production to minimize risk of technical glitches (a rehearsal with the speaker in advance is strongly advised);
  • Appropriate technical platform management to allow events to be both inclusive and secure, including adherence to the University’s Digital Accessibility standards and Multimedia Accessibility guidelines (a helpful guide can be found here); 
  • Realistic thought given to the duration of online events;
  • Clear communication with participants about the use and ownership of content after the event concludes.

Additionally, the Marshal’s Office expects that student organizations will have first obtained permission and support from the School, department, center or institute under whose auspices the event will take place, before inviting a dignitary to participate in a virtual event.

Other terms and conditions may apply, so it is always advisable to consult with the Marshal’s Office in advance on invitations to dignitaries or high-level officials, both foreign and domestic, to appear virtually on a Harvard platform.  For example, an invitation to individual(s) actively campaigning for public office at the time of the proposed event would require additional discussion, as would an invitation to an individual who is under investigation or indictment for criminal activities.

Our goal is to support the Harvard community in adapting to this new set of circumstances, while protecting the university’s interests, and ensuring that our virtual guests have a positive, comfortable experience. We look forward to the day when we are able once again to welcome special guests to our marvelous campus; until then, we appreciate your collaboration and support for these shared objectives.

Posted May 19, 2020


(Previous post): Inviting Heads of State, Dignitaries and Other High-Profile Visitors to Speak at Harvard

Harvard University regularly hosts distinguished visitors of many different nationalities, backgrounds, and beliefs. In doing so, the University encourages intellectual and educational enrichment while also honoring the principles of free speech and open inquiry that are appropriate and essential to an institution of higher learning.

Click here to view the full text of the university's protocol for inviting high-level visitors to campus.

Political activities on campus:
Click here to view the guidelines from the Office of the General Counsel regarding political activities on campus (Harvard Key login required).