Social Studies Community Petitions Against Peretz

Members of Harvard’s Committee on Degrees in Social Studies launched a petition yesterday “to strongly oppose” a planned celebration of former Harvard professor Martin “Marty” H. Peretz, in response to his recent blog post calling Muslim life “cheap.”

The petition also opposes the creation of a $500,000 undergraduate research fund created by Peretz’s friends and family that would sponsor thesis research and other student projects.

Within 10 hours of its online posting, the open letter already collected 93 names, as signotories lashed out against plans to honor Peretz at the committee’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Leaders in the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies plan to address the controversy at a meeting tomorrow, according to petitioners, who said they hope to convince the committee to rethink its decision at the gathering.

Simon L. Sternin ’01, one of the alumni leaders of the petition, said that the movement was in response to inaction from members in Social Studies.

“There have been a number of people who have tried to contact Social Studies in the past month or so, and we haven’t really gotten that much progress from that approach,” said Sternin, a former Social Studies concentrator. “We thought it might be more legimate to have a larger number of people in this opposition.”

The list of signatories includes many alumni and current students in the committee who are experiencing “the frustration that Social Studies is doing them all a disservice by their association,” Sternin said.

In a Sept. 4 blog post for The New Republic, Peretz stated that Muslims did not have the right to use the First Amendment and wrote, “Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims.” Since then, he has apologized for and retracted his post, but reaffirmed his statement on the “cheap[ness]” of Muslim life.

Members familiar with the debate conceded that a growing group of professors in the committee have voiced concerns regarding the decision to host Peretz, who has long spoken out against Arabs and Muslims, as the open letter observes.

“Peretz has a long and sordid public record of racist statements directed against various groups,” the letter states. “He has described ‘Arab society’ as ‘hidebound and backward’ and claimed (in an article later removed from The New Republic website) that ‘We have higher standards of civilization than [Arabs] do.’”

The letter states that some might recognize the fund as of unquestionable benefit to students and their research.

“There are, however, larger concerns at stake that call for a principled stand at this moment,” the letter continues. “Social Studies describes itself as a community of independent thinkers ‘who share not only a fascination with social science research and theory but also concerns about pressing social, political, and economic problems facing contemporary societies.’”

Signatory Carl G. Estabrook Jr. ’64, who called Peretz’s statements “outrageous,” said that while “Harvard might not have had the best past several years, this is an example where you have to look past the money and consider the weight of the action of taking the donation.”

Social Studies concentrator Christopher J. Carothers ’11 said that the committee’s tacit approval of Peretz’s comments worries him, given that “pseduo-intellectuals like Glenn Beck” have been promoting anti-Muslim sentiments.

“This is where Harvard has to choose between moral and money,” Carothers said. “The Harvard name has been cheapened in the past, but this is an exmaple of when we can prevent that.”

—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at