Peretz Faces Dual Legacy

While students remember him fondly, comments go unforgotten

Alex G. Libby

Illustration of Martin "Marty" Peretz

Stuart A. Levey ’85 says that in his frequent visits to the Coffee Connection—a coffee joint in the Garage and a staple in the Harvard community—there was always a familiar face.

Harvard lecturer Martin “Marty” H. Peretz made his home at a corner table, where it seemed like he was always surrounded by students.

Levey says Peretz, his undergraduate thesis adviser, preferred the cafe’s palpable exchange of ideas to his confined university office.

“That was where he would stay and hold court,” Levey says.

Levey, who wrote his thesis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, remembers Peretz as a “warm” adviser who encouraged his personal interest in the region.

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“He was unusual among faculty members in his interest in mentoring and getting to know students,” he says.

But in September, some members of the Harvard community protested against Harvard’s relation to a professor known for his controversial viewpoints.

The Committee on Degrees in Social Studies was to mark its 50th anniversary with a speech from Peretz and the establishment of a $650,000 fund for student research in his name.

Yet just weeks before, Peretz published a blog post that included a declaration that Muslims should not be extended First Amendment privileges and that “Muslim life is cheap.” Critics said that these most recent comments form part of a 30-year history of issuing hateful language towards blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims.

Following days of public opposition across campus, Peretz was removed from the list of speakers. But the committee still recognized Peretz among past leaders in Social Studies and accepted the fund in his name.

Widely criticized for his inflammatory comments, Peretz is fiercely defended by loyal colleagues and former students who continue to commend him for his dedication to Harvard and the world of academia.

A CONTROVERSIAL MENTOR

One classmate of his at Brandeis University remembers Peretz’s attempts to build connections with professors.

“He was always just pure ambition,” Harvey Pressman says. “A smart kid, but not someone that you would want as a friend.”

Peretz graduated from Bronx High School of Science in 1955. Following his undergraduate days at Brandeis, Peretz crossed the Charles and set himself to his goal of prospering in academia.

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