At least 570 professors at Harvard have defended the university’s embattled president, Claudine Gay, as she faces calls to resign following statements on campus antisemitism that have already triggered the resignation of the University of Pennsylvania president.
The faculty submitted a petition to the 13-member Harvard Corporation, which has the authority to fire the president, asking it not to bend to political pressure to remove her.
Appearing before a congressional inquiry last week, Gay, along with Sally Kornbluth, the president of MIT, and Liz Magill, the president of University of Pennsylvania, answered more than five hours of questions over their response to antisemitism on their campuses. Frequent student protests over the Israel-Gaza conflict have triggered accusations that some of the rhetoric has crossed into antisemitism.
Gay, Kornbluth and Magill all declined to provide a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to the Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik’s question about whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their university’s code of conduct.
More than 70 US lawmakers signed a letter demanding all three university presidents be removed in response. Magill resigned, as did the University of Pennsylvania’s chairman of the board of trustees.
“One down. Two to go,” said Stefanik – one of Trump’s most vocal defenders, who has echoed the antisemitic “great replacement” theory of immigration – after Macgill’s resignation.
Gay apologised for her congressional testimony in an interview with the Harvard Crimson student newspaper.
“There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students,” Gay said.
“Let me be clear: calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”
The letter signed by faculty urged the Harvard Corporation “in the strongest possible terms to defend the independence of the university and to resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom, including calls for the removal of President Claudine Gay”.
“The critical work of defending a culture of free inquiry in our diverse community cannot proceed if we let its shape be dictated by outside forces,” it added.
The backlash over her testimony has seen the House committee on education and the workforce announce an official congressional investigation into antisemitism at Harvard, the rabbi David Wolpe resign from an advisory group established to combat antisemitism on Harvard’s campus, and the billionaire hedge fund CEO and Harvard donor Bill Ackman, one of Gay’s most vocal critics, claiming to have cancelled billions of dollars of pledges.
Four undergraduate students at Harvard are facing disciplinary action for leading or playing a role in a pro-Palestine “week of action” in November.
During a walkout on 29 November, two students are accused of entering and leading students out of classrooms while chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, and “free, free Palestine,” according to the Harvard Crimson. One of the four students who face new disciplinary cases denied playing an organization role, or being a member of any of the groups involved in the walkout.
“It feels as though the school is caving to the pressure of rightwing politicians to discipline peaceful pro-Palestinian speech and protest on Harvard’s campus by targeting outspoken pro-Palestinian voices like mine,” Syd Sanders wrote in response to the disciplinary case.