The possibility of former Harvard professor Martin "Marty" H. Peretz—who has stirred controversy with his statements regarding Muslim life—speaking at the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration of the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies has grown increasingly vague.
Peretz, who wrote that "Muslim life is cheap" in a recent blog post, is no longer listed to speak on the final schedule of the anniversary celebration, which can be found on the Social Studies website.
Though Social Studies Director of Studies Anya Bernstein could not confirm that Peretz will not be speaking at Saturday’s event, she said that the schedule was updated yesterday. She added that Peretz will be recognized in some fashion at the celebration.
The development follows a meeting held by the Social Studies Standing Committee yesterday in a follow-up to last Friday’s meeting, during which committee members discussed how to respond to student, faculty, and alumni criticism of Peretz’s inflammatory comments.
The committee did not release an official statement yesterday, as it had said on Friday that it would, on its decision to accept an undergraduate research endowment fund in Peretz’s name created by his family and friends.
The fund’s proposed amount has increased from $500,000 to $650,000 in the last week due to alumni contributions donated by those outside of Peretz’s close circle. Some Social Studies professors are interpreting the increase as an indication of alumni support to honor Peretz at the anniversary, according to Simon L. Sternin ’01, a Social Studies alum and an organizer of the petition.
"We have been carefully reviewing all of the material we have received, and those views are being taken into consideration," Bernstein said.
The material includes an open letter sent by the presidents of five different student support groups and a petition that has received nearly 500 signatures—including those of First Head Tutor of Social Studies from 1960 to 1961, anniversary principal speaker Robert P. Wolff ’53-’54, and 15 current Social Studies staff members—in five days and was organized by Social Studies alumni.
The standing committee will report its conclusions today about the Peretz fund in an official statement to Social Studies concentrators and the national press.
“This is a really difficult issue, and the pain it’s causing students, faculty, and alumni is incredibly distressing,” Bernstein said. “We are paying close attention to this issue, and we are taking into consideration all views as we deliberate.”
In Peretz’s original blog post, he wrote, "Muslim life is cheap, especially to other Muslims" and added that Muslims did not deserve protection from the First Amendment. Since then, he has apologized for his latter remark but reaffirmed his belief in the cheapness of Muslim life. Yet on the eve of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur—"the Day of Atonement"—Peretz asked for forgiveness for his “sin of wild and wounding language” over the past year.
Sternin said that the apology was irrelevant, as it disregarded Peretz’s history of comments.
"He’s not apologizing for his 25 years of bigoted sentiments," Sternin said. "He’s also not apologizing for his history of racism against Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims, all of whom he has maligned."
Sternin also criticized the University for its lack of appropriate response to the controversy and said that University President Drew G. Faust, to whom he also sent the petition, "has been silent."
"If they go forward and accept the money, they are going to look like fools," Sternin said.
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