Harvard Faculty Rallies Around University President After Disastrous Anti-Semitism Testimony

Claudine Gay (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
December 11, 2023

Several hundred faculty members at Harvard University on Sunday signed a petition asking school administrators to not bend to pressure to fire the school's president over her congressional testimony about anti-Semitism on campus, in which she suggested calls for the genocide of Jews would not necessarily violate university policies.

A petition was signed by at least 570 professors and was delivered Sunday evening to the 13-member Harvard Corporation, which has the power to fire university president Claudine Gay. More professors indicated they also wanted to sign, according to a co-author of the petition.

Pressure has hiked on Gay over the weekend, after University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill resigned on Saturday.

Gay, Magill, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology president Sally Kornbluth testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee last week about a rise in anti-Semitism on college campuses following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

The trio declined to give a definitive "yes" or "no" answer to Republican representative Elise Stefanik's question of whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools' codes of conduct regarding bullying and harassment, saying they had to balance it against free speech protections.

More than 70 U.S. lawmakers signed onto a letter demanding that the governing boards of the three universities remove the presidents, citing dissatisfaction with their testimony.

But Alison Frank Johnson, a Harvard professor of history and a co-author of the petition delivered to the school's corporation, rejected the calls for Gay's removal.

"I get the impression that many people don't know how much support she has, as a scholar, colleague, and administrator, within the university—including from people who sometimes disagree with her," Frank Johnson wrote in an email. "We don't want to lose her because of a political stunt."

Frank Johnson would not provide the language of the petition, but confirmed that it asks the Harvard Corporation "not to bend to political pressure, including pressure to remove the president."

Jewish students, families, and alumni have accused the schools of tolerating anti-Semitism, especially in statements by pro-Palestinian demonstrators since the Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and killed around 1,200.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; editing by Michael Perry)

Published under: Anti-Semitism , Harvard