Harvard Buckles to Student Radicals

University leaders to hold divestment meeting with encampment radicals and initiate 'reinstatement proceedings' for suspended protesters

Anti-Israel Harvard protest in Oct. 2023 (Reuters/Brian Snyder)
May 14, 2024

Harvard University interim president Alan Garber reached an agreement with unauthorized student protesters to "end the encampment" that has plagued campus for nearly three weeks, he announced Tuesday. In return, his administration will meet with the protesters to discuss divestment from Israel and initiate "reinstatement proceedings" for suspended encampment members.

Garber's message, which he sent to Harvard students and faculty members Tuesday morning, touts a "conversation" he "had with students last week," during which he agreed to "meet with students to hear their perspectives on academic matters related to longstanding conflicts in the Middle East." Garber also said he will facilitate a meeting between student protesters and Harvard's Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility "to address questions about the endowment."

In addition to those meetings, Garber directed university leaders to "promptly initiate applicable reinstatement proceedings for all individuals who have been placed on involuntary leave of absence" for participating in the encampment. Those who face other disciplinary charges will be handled with "precedents of leniency," the group behind the encampment, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, said in a press release. Harvard placed at least 20 students on leave, and more than 60 students face other charges, according to the Harvard Crimson.

Garber's decision to capitulate to the encampment members came after the interim president repeatedly refused to meet with student protesters, a position he reversed as the encampment approached its second week on campus.

Students in the encampment have routinely engaged in anti-Semitic chants, including "There is only one solution, intifada revolution," and "From the sea to the river, Palestine will live forever." On April 27, students raised Palestinian flags on campus in a spot typically reserved for the American flag before chanting, "Shame," at the Harvard staff tasked with removing them.

While some Ivy League schools, such as Columbia University, employed police officers to clear unauthorized encampments, others reached agreements with student protesters. At Cornell University, for example, protesters voluntarily closed their "Liberated Zone" to continue negotiations with President Martha Pollack.

"While administration has tried to slow down negotiations, the pace is beginning to pick up," the student group behind the encampment, the Coalition for Mutual Liberation, said in a Monday Instagram post.

In his Tuesday message, Garber touted his "commitment to ongoing and reasoned dialogue." He also acknowledged "the profound grief that many in our community feel over the tragic effects of the ongoing war."

"There will continue to be deep disagreements and strongly felt emotions as we experience pain and distress over events in the wider world," Garber wrote. "Now more than ever, it is crucial to do what we do best, modeling ways to build understanding, empathy, and trust, and pursuing constructive change anchored in the rights and responsibilities we share."

Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine struck a different tone in their announcement of the agreement, pledging to continue the "student intifada" and "come back stronger in our fight for Palestine."

"Administration has also offered us meetings regarding disclosure and divestment with members of the Harvard Management Company and 'conversations' regarding the establishment of a Center for Palestine Studies at Harvard," the group said in a statement.

"We are under no illusions: we do not believe these meetings are divestment wins. These side deals are intended to pacify us away from full disclosure and divestment. Rest assured, they will not."

Harvard did not respond to a request for comment. The school has touted its response to the encampment as proof that it takes campus anti-Semitism seriously, writing in a May 6 legal filing that Garber and other leaders addressed the encampment "quickly."

"Rather than proving … that Harvard is deliberately indifferent to anti-Semitism on campus, these developments show the opposite," the filing said of Harvard's encampment response.