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Martin Shkreli's Scheduled Harvard Appearance Sparks Controversy

By Graham W. Bishai, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: February 10, 2017 at 1:47 a.m.

Martin Shkreli, a business executive indicted for securities fraud who was once dubbed “the most hated man in America,” has accepted an invitation from the Harvard Financial Analysts Club to speak at Harvard on Wednesday, prompting some students to plan a protest of the event.

Shkreli said in an interview Tuesday that he plans to speak about his experience in financial investing and that the talk is “not going to be controversial.” Some students, however, are upset that such a polarizing figure will have a platform to speak on campus.

“I want to share some knowledge I’ve accrued over the years, some of the success I’ve had, and I’d like these events to go forward, even if there are hecklers and people who don’t like me. I can address that as well. But I’d like to do that in a reasonable and professional manner,” Shkreli said.

Shkreli gained widespread attention in 2015 when the company he formerly headed, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the U.S. marketing rights for the drug Daraprim, and increased its market cost from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

Shkreli, who said he had previously had events at Yale and Princeton cancelled, said he was “less concerned” about encountering resistance from students at Harvard.

“I have a high regard for the university, as most people do. I would expect, if there are any protests, ... at least calm protesters. Hopefully they attend the event and hear what I have to say. It might surprise them,” Shkreli said.

Katherine Qian ’20, has decided to protest the event rather than attend it. Qian said in an emailed statement that she is planning planning a protest of the event “in coalition with a number of student groups on campus.”

Ian A. Askew ’19 also said he was concerned with Shkreli’s speaking appearance, saying he too would not attend the talk.

“I'm concerned about the kind of investing my peers plan to go into if they are interested in learning about his strategies and mindset. ” said Askew. “I am more concerned with holding HFAC accountable for this counterproductive programming.”

Student officers of the Harvard Financial Analysts Club did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Shkreli’s appearance.

In 2015, the FBI arrested Shkreli and indicted him on charges of securities fraud. In accordance with his bail agreement, Shkreli said he must request permission to travel outside of New York City before his June trial date. Shkreli made such a request this week in order to travel to Harvard.

Last month, several students and affiliates of the University of California, Davis protested an event in which Shkreli was scheduled to appear alongside right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.

“Unlike my colleague, so to speak, Milo Yiannopoulos, I’m not a political activist. I’m not the vanguard for the right wing or for being a Republican,” Shkreli said. “I am here to give a speech about investing. It’s not going to be controversial.”

Yiannopoulos, an outspoken far-right political activist and writer for Breitbart News, recently made headlines when another event, this time at California’s Berkeley campus, was cancelled when protests turned violent. Shkreli said he disagrees with a number of Yiannopoulos’s views. Shkreli and Yiannopoulos have both been banned from Twitter for harassing women on the platform.

Qian cited both Shkreli’s actions in his pharmeceutical career and his behavior on Twitter as reasons for protesting.

“I think this is a really damaging event and that the Harvard platform shouldn’t be used to give someone like Shkreli legitimacy, space, and power.” Qian wrote.

Askew said the Harvard Financial Analysts Club should have invited a speaker other than Shkreli. “There are too many people contributing positively to society to invite a celebrity villain to talk about himself at Harvard,” Askew said.

While the event was originally scheduled to take place in the Science Center, the event may be relocated, according to the event’s Facebook page.

—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GrahamBishai.

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