Harvard Abandons Search for Chair of Holocaust Studies

University reallocates money, puts position on hold indefinitely

After several years of searching for a scholar to fill a tenured Holocaust studies chair, Harvard has disbanded its search committee and announced that it is presently unable to appoint a scholar to the position.

The chair, named the Helen Zelaznik Professorship for Holocaust and Cognate Studies, was to have been endowed by a gift of more than $3 million from the Kenneth and Evelyn Lipper Foundation.

Traditionally, Holocaust studies have been incorporated into such departments as History, Literature and Government rather than being regarded as a separate discipline.

The Zelaznik Professorship would have been one of the first Holocaust chairs in the United States.

Reached by phone last night, Evelyn Lipper said she and her husband understood the University's decision, even though it was not the result for which they had hoped.

"I think both of us were disappointed, but we understand that Harvard has very high standards," said Evelyn Lipper.

In August of 1994, the Lippers gave the University $1 million, the first installment of their donation towards the establishment of the chair.

They have decided to reallocate this initial donation, which is now worth approximately $1.8 million with interest, to the Lipper Center for Computational Genetics, a program at the Harvard Medical School which develops advanced techniques for genetic research.

"We think that's a really great project, so it was a easy decision to reallocate the funds to the medical school program," said Lipper.

Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles praised the Lippers' decision.

"Their decision illustrates the creative and generous support that they have provided over the years," he said in a statement released by the Harvard News Office.

"I am delighted to see the Lippers' funds being put to such immediate good use in the Medical School, and I know that we shall work together in the future toward other needs and opportunities," he added.

Deadlock and Dissolution

The dissolution of the search com- mittee and the reallocation of the Lippers'gift marks the end of a long and controversialstruggle to fill the position.

The five-member search committee, whichincluded Faculty members from the Government,History, and Near Eastern Languages andCivilizations Departments, was deadlocked over thelegitimacy of a Holocaust post as well as thequestion of who should fill the position.

The committee considered a number of Holocaustscholars, including Saul Friedlander of theUniversity of California at Los Angeles (UCLA),Christopher Browning of Pacific LutheranUniversity, Omer Bartov of Rutgers University,Samuel Kassow of Trinity College, and Dan Diner ofthe University of Essen in Germany.

Almost a year ago, however, the searchcommittee concluded it could not recommend any ofthe candidates for a tenure level appointment,according to Debra Ruder, assistant director ofthe Office of News and Public Affairs.

Instead, the committee proposed appointingFriedlander, who is nearing retirement age, to aguest professorship while the committee continuedits search.

"Our proposal to the Dean [Knowles] last springwas that a guest professor be brought to Harvardfor three visiting semesters during which timewe'd look for a permanent [professor]," said KruppFoundation Professor of European Studies CharlesS. Maier, who headed the search committee.

"The donors decided that the chair would not beappropriately used in that matter so this proposalbecame a dead letter," he said.

While Maier said that the decision to disbandthe committee was made by Knowles and the donors,the decision seemed to have been the result of thecommittee's inability to reach a consensus overkey issues.

The committee was split over whether thereought to be a Holocaust chair at all and if so,what type of scholar ought to occupy the position.

"Some people didn't want a Holocaust chair inthe first place," said Martin H. Peretz, alecturer in social studies.

Another issue which divided the committee wasthe candidacy of Associate Professor of Governmentand Social Studies Daniel J. Goldhagen '81.

The Lippers were rumored to favor Goldhagen,the controversial author of the best-sellingHitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germansand the Holocaust, but Harvard officials saidthe donors' preferences would not affect thesearch committee's decision.

Some members of the committee believedGoldhagen was too young to hold the position, aFaculty member familiar with the search told TheCrimson in April of 1997.

"There were others on the committee who knewthere was no one more qualified for a Holocauststudies chair than Goldhagen but for whateverreason didn't want to appoint him," Peretz said.

Peretz said Knowles' decision to disband thesearch committee was not surprising because thecommittee's attempts to form a consensus byappointing a guest professor were not in keepingwith its mission.

"The disbanding of the committee is actuallylong overdue because the committee seemed to beembarked on trying to fill one or another otherpositions but not a position in Holocauststudies," said Peretz.

The Future of Holocaust Studies atHarvard

The University remains optimistic about itsplans to fill a Holocaust post.

"Harvard University and the Lipper Foundationwill continue to discuss the establishment of achair to support a tenured professor in Holocaustand Cognate studies at Harvard in the comingyears," a University press release said.

But now that the search committee has beendisbanded and the Lippers' original gift has beenreallocated, it is unclear how Harvard will fundor fill such a post.

"It is my understanding that the committee isno longer meeting and the process is on hold,"said Ruder.

The Lippers themselves are not certain ofwhether they would be willing to fund a Holocaustchair if Harvard approached them with a candidatein the future.

"We would talk about it at that time," saidEvelyn Lipper.

Maier says that with or without a chair,Harvard will continue to teach Holocaust studies.Maier himself is also teaching a seminar onHolocaust historiography this semester.

"We teach the Holocaust," he said. There's noone tenured scholar for whom the Holocaust is aprimary research interest, but sometimes Holocaustscholars get appointed to regular chairs, not justHolocaust chairs."

Still, some said the failure to fill the chairis a missed opportunity to solidify Harvard'sposition at the forefront of Holocaustscholarship. Peretz predicted that Harvard willeventually establish a Holocaust chair.

"I think that since there are Holocaust chairsnow being discussed at other very distinguisheduniversities like, for example, Yale, Princetonand the university of Chicago, Harvard will sooneror later have a Holocaust chair," said Peretz.

"But alas, it won't have done it when it whenit had this opportunity," he said