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Amid backlash, Harvard cancels class on policing strategy

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Harvard University's engineering school has canceled a class that intended to evaluate a policing strategy based on U.S. military tactics after students raised concerns about the strategy's impact on people of color.

In a message to students on Monday, the school's dean said the class had been withdrawn and officials plan to review the vetting process for proposed classes.

Leaders of the engineering school "are aware of, and take seriously, the concerns that some of you raised about the design and pedagogy of the proposed course," the dean, Frank Doyle, said in his message. "We also take seriously our responsibility to protect the academic freedom of all community members."

A course description said students would analyze 10 years of data on a policing strategy known as C3, which is based on counterinsurgency tactics used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Students would study the technique's use in Springfield, Massachusetts, and evaluate if it was effective, according to the description.

It was proposed by Kevin Kit Parker, a bioengineering and applied physics professor who has previously studied and taught about the policing strategy. Parker, who served in Afghanistan for the U.S. Army, did not immediately comment on the courses' cancellation but referred to a recording of an online meeting he held Monday with community members in Springfield.

During the meeting, Parker defended the research project and said there's "a lot of confusion out there about what counterinsurgency is."

"We are not doing predictive policing. This is a retrospective study of things that happened between 2009 and 2019," he said. "We have gone through an institutional review board at Harvard and ethics training and interview training."

Developed by military veterans, the policing strategy calls on officers to build strong ties with the community to help fight drug and gang activity. In Springfield, it has also included the use of software that analyzes data on the social relationships of gang members and other suspected criminals.

In a petition that began circulating over the weekend, some Harvard students and alumni said Parker's class failed to consider how such strategies disproportionately affect Black and brown communities. The class description included no analysis of structural racism, the petition said, and no acknowledgement of last summer's nationwide protests following the killings of Black Americans by police.

"The work promoted in this course represents an academic stamp of approval of predictive policing, COIN tactics deployed against Black and brown neighborhoods, and the use of data driven methods to support militarized policing of U.S. communities," the petition said.

Signed by more than 300 students and alumni, the petition added that Harvard "continues to be at the cutting edge of providing the next generation tools of oppression — a distinction we are not proud of and do not wish to uphold."

Harvard officials declined to comment beyond the dean's statement.

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