Harvard faculty vote to allow 13 disciplined protesters to graduate - The Boston Globe (2024)

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Each semester, faculty gather to approve degrees ahead of commencement. Such meetings are usually uneventful affairs that few voting faculty members attend. On Monday, however, more than 100 faculty members showed up, and an amendment was added to the agenda to grant degrees to 13 of the disciplined students, according to three voting faculty members who were in attendance. There are more than 700 eligible faculty members in the arts and sciences faculty, according to Harvard.

Student organizers with Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine said earlier in the day that 15 seniors would be prevented from graduating. Two were scheduled to graduate in December, according to a faculty member who attended Monday’s meeting. The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Hopi Hoekstra, oversaw the meeting.

The faculty members requested anonymity because it was a closed meeting.

A spokesperson for Harvard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The secretive, 13-seat corporation, “exercises fiduciary responsibility with regard to the university’s academic, financial, and physical resources and overall well-being,” according to Harvard. It is also responsible for selecting the next president, with assistance from the board of overseers, which is made up of dozens of elected alumni.

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One professor said it would be “extraordinary” for the boards to strike down a faculty recommendation. Another professor, however, acknowledged that Harvard and its top governing boards are under immense pressure from donors, alumni, and conservative politicians to discipline pro-Palestinian students for allegedly creating hostile campus environments.

Members of the Congressional Committee on Education and the Workforce applauded Columbia University’s president at a hearing in April about campus antisemitism for suspending pro-Palestinian students. Former Harvard president Claudine Gay’s legalistic and equivocal answers at a December hearing on antisemitism with the same committee contributed to her sudden departure on Jan. 2.

“The Committee has a clear message for mealy-mouthed, spineless college leaders: Congress will not tolerate your dereliction of your duty to your Jewish students,” said Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina who chairs the committee, in a May 16 news release about an upcoming hearing with the presidents of Northwestern University, Rutgers University, and the University of California Los Angeles.

Student activists at Harvard set up their encampment in solidarity with student protesters at Columbia who were forcibly removed by police and arrested. Dozens of other campuses saw similar encampments erected, but so far, in Massachusetts, Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are the only schools that have moved to prevent students from graduating this semester because of their involvement. Protesters at Harvard have been calling on the university to divest from Israeli assets.

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In an email sent May 14 to student organizers of the encampment, Garber said Harvard would “encourage” the “schools to address cases expeditiously under existing precedent and practice (including taking into account where relevant the voluntary decision to leave the encampment), for all students, including those students eligible thereafter to graduate so that they may do so.”

A few days later, though, Garber used sterner language to say he supported appropriate discipline for protesters in communications with members of the community, including the Harvard Jewish Alumni Alliance.

The vote by Harvard faculty stands in sharp contrast to a vote Friday among MIT faculty members, who vetoed a motion to remove punitive actions from MIT protesters’ interim suspensions. About 190 faculty opposed removing disciplinary actions at MIT, while roughly 150 favored the idea.

At the Harvard meeting, several faculty members made impassioned speeches to a full room about why the eligible protestors should graduate, according to faculty members who attended. At least one professor said he disagreed with the content of the encampment’s demands, and expressed frustration over the protesters’ lack of attention to the atrocities Hamas inflicted on Israelis in the Oct. 7 attacks, but said he nevertheless believes in the right to protest and felt the punishments to prevent students from graduating went too far, according to one professor there.

MIT and Harvard have said the encampments violated guidelines around the permissible time, place, and manner of protests, and were disruptive to the universities’ operations. Officials at both schools have also signaled that the encampments made Israeli and Jewish students who support Israel feel unwelcome. In a May 6 message to the community, Garber expressed concerns about reports of harassing and intimidating behavior from participants of the encampment.

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“When Harvard staff have requested to see IDs in order to enforce our policies, supporters of the encampment have at times yelled at them, tried to encircle them, and otherwise interfered with their work,” Garber said. “We have also received reports that passers-by have been confronted, surveilled, and followed. Such actions are indefensible and unacceptable.”

Hilary Burns can be reached at hilary.burns@globe.com. Follow her @Hilarysburns.

Harvard faculty vote to allow 13 disciplined protesters to graduate - The Boston Globe (2024)
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