The Committee on Degrees in Social Studies will inaugurate a $650,000 undergraduate research fund in honor of former Harvard professor Martin “Marty” H. Peretz at the concentration’s fiftieth anniversary celebration this Saturday, according to an official statement released by the Social Studies Standing Committee late last night. Peretz has been embroiled in controversy following a blog post in which he referred to Muslim life as “cheap.”
This official statement represents the conclusion of a heated five-day debate in which over 550 people—including Social Studies concentrators, alumni, and staff members as well as presidents of student support groups—have petitioned against hosting Peretz and accepting the fund. The statement was supposed to be sent out Monday.
Critics of the fund, which is supported by donations from former students and colleagues of Peretz, issued their own statement in response an hour after the official statement, cautioning that the “legacy of bigotry will be remembered as one of the most shameful in the history of Harvard University.”
Signed by President of the Harvard Islamic Society Abdelnasser Rashid ’11-’12 and petition organizer and Social Studies concentrator Simon L. Sternin ’01, the statement noted that the Unversity is acting out of line with its previous actions by accepting the fund. In 2004, Harvard declined the $2.5 million donation of Shaykh Zayed al-Nahyan, the former president of the United Arab Emirates who founded a think tank that has been linked to extremist speakers.
“We call upon [University] President Drew Gilpin Faust, who has yet to find time in her schedule to meet with Muslim students, to reverse this decision and send a strong signal that Harvard is not for sale to bigotry,” the statement read.
“She’s the voice that people look to see what the University’s decision on this is,” Sternin said.
Yet Faust announced her approval of the Social Studies department’s decision at her interview with Visiting Fellow Charlie Gibson at Sanders Theater yesterday, saying that the donors “wished to recognize the ways in which [Peretz] contributed as a teacher to their lives.”
“So it was their wish to contribute to undergraduate research and to recognize the importance of undergraduate research,” Faust said. “That wish seems to us an entirely appropriate basis for a gift.”
Many Social Studies concentrators disagreed.
“For a department that teaches the theory of moral principles, this seems like a prime opportunity to actually practice some of them,” Social Studies concentrator Krishna M. Prabhu ’11 said.
The official committee statement argued that a group of graduates who have worked towards “freedom and equality” and “social causes” could not “harbor within it any form of racial, religious, or other cultural prejudice.”
The statement reaffirmed that Peretz will be “recognized and have the opportunity to make some brief remarks” as a former Social Studies head tutor.
The statement said that while the committee is opposed to Peretz’s controversial remarks, it will use the fund donated in his name to support undergraduates studying topics “such as the study of intercultural understanding, inequality, and social justice.”
Director of Studies Anya Bernstein declined to comment further.
According to Sternin, dialogue with the committee has been sparse—the last time that he has received any response from them was weeks ago.
“Apparently, they’re talking to their donors but they haven’t been talking to the 550 of us,” Sternin said.
—Staff writer Julia R. Jeffries can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Gautam S. Kumar can be reached at email@example.com.
—Elias J. Groll contributed to the reporting of this story.