Invitation Protocol & Visitor Guidelines

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.

Many visitors to the University may be invited directly by Schools, departments, student groups, and other academic and administrative units. However, the University Marshal’s Office should be the first point of contact for any School, department, center, institute, program, or organization that would like to issue an invitation to a dignitary. The Marshal’s Office provides advice and assistance on matters of protocol and appropriate procedures for issuing such invitations. It is critical that all faculty and administrators inform the Marshal’s Office of plans to invite dignitaries so that Harvard can avoid conflicting invitations.  PLEASE NOTE THAT SIMILAR CONDITIONS APPLY FOR INVITATIONS FOR VIRTUAL OR HYBRID EVENTS HOSTED BY HARVARD--see the 2020 addendum to the protocol at the bottom of this page.

All members of the Harvard community who are considering extending high-level invitations to speaking engagements on campus should keep in mind the following guidelines:

-- Prior consultation with the Marshal’s Office is required for invitations to incumbent heads of state or government, which must be extended in writing, directly by the President of Harvard. The Marshal must review and approve such invitations in advance, and once approved will liaise with the President’s Office on drafting and sending the invitation.

-- Any invitation to a head of state or other high-level dignitary to give a public address at Harvard should include explicit reference to the university’s expectation that he or she take questions from the audience following his or her address. Typically, a Harvard faculty member will moderate.

--Secret Service protection is mandatory for any foreign head of state or government while on U.S. soil. Many other categories of dignitaries also require similar levels of security coverage for travel in the U.S. Any associated security costs, which can be considerable, are to be borne by the event sponsor(s).

Additional terms and conditions may apply for those other than heads of state, 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. 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.  See bottom of page for link to more information about the University's policies around political activities on campus.

Student organizations seeking to invite high-level dignitaries to conferences or speaking engagements should also take the following into account prior to issuing such invitations:

-- The Marshal’s Office expects that students will have first obtained permission and support from a senior faculty member or senior administrator associated with the organization (such as the faculty director or executive director of a center or institute), and with the School or department where the event will take place. This is especially important for potential invitations to heads of state or government, which will NOT be approved for events solely run by students without the demonstrated support of a center, department, Dean’s office, or other administrative unit of the university.

-- The Marshal’s Office reserves the right to seek additional information and assurances about the details of the student-run conference or event before approving invitations. Students should be prepared to show that:
                1.  there is a realistic expectation that the dignitary may accept the invitation based on the scope/theme of the conference  or speaking engagement;
               2.  the organization is equipped with the resources to host the dignitary at an appropriate level (able to cover security costs, provide an appropriate venue and moderator for Q&A, would be available for diplomatic advance visits, has a clear messaging strategy that is consistent with the university’s, etc.);
               3. there is a compelling reason for Harvard to serve as the host venue for the event, and that the dignitary’s appearance would meet the university’s goals for encouraging intellectual enrichment while honoring the principles of free speech;
               4. There is a faculty member or administrator who has indicated that he/she will take oversight responsibility for the speaking event.

The Marshal’s Office can also advise on other matters of protocol, including proper forms of address, customs, gift exchanges, document signings, speaking formats, and Q&A requirements.

See here for the full text of the Invitation Protocol & Visitor Guidelines

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).

Addendum regarding invitations for virtual and hybrid 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