Protestors Fight Against Marty Peretz
As the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies celebrated its 50th anniversary, protestors gathered starting at 9:30 a.m. outside of the Science Center on Saturday, denouncing Harvard University for accepting a donation in the name of former Social Studies Head Tutor Martin “Marty” H. Peretz.
Renowned academics and alumni presented on the history and future of the program during the committee’s celebration, which was interrupted by protestors reacting against Peretz’s recent controversial comments.
Members of the Social Studies community pressed the committee during question and answer sessions to explain its decision to honor Peretz—who many said had a 30-year history of issuing hateful language towards blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims. And at a luncheon during which Peretz was recognized, nearly ten attendees walked out.
Robert P. Wolff ’54, who was principal speaker at the luncheon and the first head tutor of Social Studies, criticized the committee at the luncheon for not taking a harder stance against recognizing Peretz, to much audience applause.
Because Harvard is an “imperial power” in the higher education sphere, it tends to treat all money, regardless of source, as “without stench,” Wolff said at the luncheon.
“I had always hoped that Social Studies would hold itself to a higher standard...but, here, the money stinks.”
Wolff was referring to a research fund focused on sponsorship for undergraduate research on interracial and justice issues in honor of Peretz’s teaching contributions. The fund was paid for by his former students and began with $500,000 in donations, jumping to $650,000 just within the week before the anniversary celebration.
Recent official statements from both the University and the Social Studies committee announced that they would accept the fund. Though the committee decided to remove Peretz’s name from the celebration’s list of speakers, it still recognized him alongside past head tutors and directors of studies, as the position is now termed.
Throughout the past week, over 500 alumni, students, and staff organized to protest Peretz’s coming to Harvard and the University’s acceptance of the fund—a debate that has been extensively covered by national media.
“The notion that because [Peretz] was a beloved teacher that excuses the despicable
things that he says...I find it incomprehensible,” Wolff said in an interview with The Crimson. “What disturbed me was not simply that he said these things, but that Social Studies was going to honor him by establish a scholarship research fund in his name.”
Wolff continued to suggest that much of Peretz’s antagonistic views derive from his pro-Israeli stance—an issue that Wolff argued was largely ignored because “there are a lot of Jews here, and that’s not an issue that they’re ready to confront openly.”
Wolff also criticized the naming of the fund. “He didn’t even have the grace to say that he didn’t want the fund in his name,” Wolff said. “Next thing you know, he’s going to want his name on every single urinal and bench at Harvard.”
“I knew Marty Peretz 50 years ago, and he was an egregious little wannabe fifty years ago. And fifty years has not improved him one bit,” Wolff said.
Wolff signed the petition to bar Peretz from speaking. Many of the other signatories protested vocally outside the Science Center and Adams House, where the luncheon took place. The rallies drew police attention.