Students in Harvard Encampment Threatened With Suspension After Nearly 2 Weeks

Interim Harvard President Alan Garber warns 'continued escalation will result in increasingly severe sanctions'

Pro-Palestinian student protesters in Cambridge, Mass.(Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
May 6, 2024

Harvard University's interim president, Alan Garber, on Monday told protesters encamped on campus to disband or they would be placed on "involuntary leave," after nearly two weeks of chaos on campus from the unsanctioned tent encampment.

Garber’s message indicated to student protesters that unless they disband they could be prohibited from sitting for exams and from residing in campus housing, among other sanctions. Protesters erected the anti-Israel encampment on Harvard Yard on April 24. They are demanding the school divest from companies tied to Israel.

The encampment, which at the outset administrators indicated violated university policies, has been accused of intimidation and harassment, creating a hostile environment for Jewish students, and engaging in chants calling for "the destruction of Israel." Nonetheless, the encampment has been allowed to continue for 12 days and, according to Harvard graduate student Shabbos Kestenbaum, nothing appears to have changed Monday following Garber's order.

"After 12 days of silence, Harvard finally condemned the pro-Hamas encampments and the harassment of Jewish students. But President Alan Garber hasn’t removed them from campus!" Kestenbaum, who is suing Harvard over unchecked anti-Semitism on its campus, said on social media Monday. "Words mean nothing when antisemitic students feel they can follow Jews on their way to class."

Harvard’s ultimatum follows other schools that have decided to take action against unauthorized anti-Israel protests happening on campuses around the country. Last week at Columbia University, where the anti-Israel encampment movement began in early April, officials confirmed suspensions had begun for students who refused to leave the encampment. Also last week, following a raucous few days at UNC-Chapel Hill’s encampment which saw pro-Palestinian protesters replace an American flag in the middle of campus with a Palestinian flag, students also began facing disciplinary action.

Harvard did not respond to the Washington Free Beacon’s request for comment.

In Garber’s letter, the interim president indicated encampment protesters have been warned "repeatedly" that they will face disciplinary action for continued involvement in the unauthorized encampment. "Further violations and continued escalation will result in increasingly severe sanctions," he added.

So far, the protesters have ignored university directives. University staffers who have asked protesters for their school identification cards have been met with resistance, as students have "yelled at them, tried to encircle them, and otherwise interfered with their work," Garber said.

The interim president also chronicled the "numerous" issues Harvard has faced since the encampment in Harvard Yard began. Among those issues are disruptions to university activities and operations, such as the inability for students to move freely, study, and sleep in peace. Harvard College exams and other important events have had to be moved as a result of the ongoing encampment, the message pointed out. Finally, Garber said school administrator’s were "especially troubled" by reports of intimidation and harassment from members of the encampment against Harvard community members.

Last week, Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Democratic congressman presiding over the district that neighbors Cambridge, Mass., where Harvard is located, demanded Harvard administrators dismantle the encampment due to the "hostile learning environment" being created for Jewish and Israeli students, the Boston Herald reported.

Kestenbaum is concerned the president’s words are empty and will do little to fix the current situation at Harvard. "All tents are still up," Kestenbaum told the Free Beacon. "There’s actually more tents now than ever. And they’re on both sides of the yard where commencement will take place," he continued. "Zero indication police will tell them to leave."

Harvard is currently facing multiple federal investigations into whether it has adequately stamped out anti-Semitism on its campus, including from the Department of Education and congressional Republicans. During a press conference last week House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) said Republicans were expanding their investigations into anti-Semitism on various college campuses around the country.

"American universities are officially put on notice that we have come to take our universities back," said Education and the Workforce Committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.), whose committee is leading the investigations. "College is not a park for play-acting juveniles or a battleground for radical activists."