New Fund Sparks Controversy in Social Studies

The Social Studies department plans to honor former Harvard Professor Martin “Marty” H. Peretz through the launching of an undergraduate research fund in his name, despite controversy surrounding one of Peretz’s recent blog posts in which he wrote that Muslims did not deserve protection from the First Amendment, and that “Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims.”

The research fund—which will support thesis research and other student projects—will be announced at the Social Studies Department’s fiftieth anniversary celebration, to the strong disapproval of multiple ethnic and religious groups on campus.

Peretz apologized for and retracted his Sept. 4 blog post stating that Muslims did not have the right to use the First Amendment, but reaffirmed his statement on the “cheap[ness]” of Muslim life. Peretz’s post intended to respond to the continuing debate on the construction of Park51, a New York City Muslim religious center planned to be built a few blocks from Ground Zero. The student research fund in honor of Peretz has upset many undergraduate students and faculty members, many of whom feel that the honor sends a signal that the College has chosen to overlook his insensitive remarks, according to several student group members.

In an article published in Foreign Policy magazine, Kennedy School Professor Stephen M. Walt expressed disgust towards Peretz’s remarks.

“If he had said similar things about Catholics or African Americans, there would be an outcry and most people at Harvard would be appalled,” Walt said.

Walt added that he did not believe Peretz’s apology was sufficient, and expressed concern that Peretz was still being honored at the Social Studies anniversary celebration.

“In the absence of a more heartfelt apology than he has made thus far, I think it’s unfortunate that he would be honored in this way,” Walt said. “If he is going to speak [at the celebration], that would be an ideal opportunity for him to make a sincere apology for what he wrote last week and what he has said on many occasions in the past.”

Students too have expressed their outrage.

“As a community, we’re certainly not happy about this happening—it’s not appropriate to recognize someone making such hurtful remarks,” said Rashid M. Yasin ’12, the Islamic Society’s director of external relations. “A couple of students—myself included—have been trying to reach with Social Studies to address this issue.”

The Harvard Islamic Society, along with several other student groups, hopes to draft a private letter to the Social Studies department, voicing disapproval, according to Yasin.

In a written statement in response to the Peretz research fund controversy, the University has said that Harvard is an institution that proposes equal opportunities and respect for all people despite their backgrounds.

“The recent assertions by Dr. Peretz are therefore distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so,” the University stated.

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at gkumar@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Julia R. Jeffries can be reached at juliajeffries@college.harvard.edu.

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