“[Paulin] has expressed an interest in accepting the invitation but final decision and details remain to be worked out over the next couple of weeks,” wrote department chair Lawrence Buell in an e-mail, adding that the visit would likely take place in the spring.
Paulin has come under fire for statements he has made regarding conflict in the Middle East. He said that Brooklyn-born settlers on the West Bank in Israel “should be shot dead,” according to one Egyptian newspaper. And he wrote of “Zionist SS” who shot “another little Palestinian boy” in one of his poems.
In a written statement yesterday, University President Lawrence H. Summers called for an exchange of ideas at Harvard.
“We are ultimately stronger as a university if we together maintain our robust commitment to free expression, including the freedom of groups on campus to invite speakers with controversial views, sometimes views that many members of our community find abhorrent,” Summers wrote. “We must stand firmly behind that commitment.”
Summers had previously criticized an anti-Semitic trend that he said was emerging in certain “progressive intellectual communities.”
The news of Paulin’s re-invitation has already spurred some campus organizations to begin planning protests. Hillel President Benjamin P. Solomon-Schwartz ’04, who is also a Crimson editor, said his organization was contemplating organized protests.
And Harvard Students for Israel President David B. Adelman ’04 promised to take “appropriate measures.”
“Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of people out there to ask him difficult questions,” he said.
In his statement, Summers said he hoped that any protesters would air their views “in responsible ways” and that those attending Paulin’s reading would not disrupt the poet.
Paulin has attempted to distance himself from the remarks, alleging that his views have been distorted.
“I do not support attacks on Israeli civilians under any circumstances,” he wrote last April in London’s Daily Mail.
One colleague of Paulin’s at Columbia University—where the poet is currently a visiting lecturer—said the remarks were giving people the wrong impression of his friend.
Paulin was guilty of saying “stupid things,” according to Columbia English Professor James Shapiro, but “he is not an anti-Semite.”
Nonetheless, a talk by Paulin at the University of Vermont, originally scheduled for yesterday, was cancelled because of the controversy surrounding that visit.
The English professor who extended the original invitation to Paulin agreed with the poet to cancel the visit, according to Enrique Corredera, director of university communications at the University of Vermont.
“They mutually came to a conclusion that it would not serve anyone’s best interest for the talk to continue,” he said.
Corredera added that his university had made its decision to cancel Paulin’s visit without regard to Harvard’s actions on the matter.
But Shapiro was dubious.
“The University of Vermont cancelled Tom Paulin’s talk based on Harvard’s precedent,” Shapiro said. “We all know Harvard is a very powerful institution.”
—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at email@example.com.