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U.S. Education Department Opens Investigation Into Harvard Following Antisemitism Complaint

The U.S. Education Department has opened investigations into Harvard, Columbia University, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania in response to allegations of antisemitism on college campuses.
The U.S. Education Department has opened investigations into Harvard, Columbia University, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania in response to allegations of antisemitism on college campuses. By Cam E. Kettles
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

The U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation into Harvard on Tuesday over the University’s response to allegations of antisemitism on campus, according to the department’s website.

The investigation, led by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, follows a complaint that alleged Harvard failed to adequately respond to reports of antisemitic harassment on campus — one of a slew of complaints alleging skyrocketing antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Harvard joins several peer institutions on the department’s list of pending Title VI shared ancestry investigations, including Columbia University, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Wellesley College.

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that the University supports “the work of the Office of Civil Rights to ensure students’ rights to access educational programs are safeguarded and will work with the office to address their questions.”

Kristi R. Harris, chief attorney for the Office of Civil Rights in Boston, wrote in a letter announcing the investigation that the Education Department will probe “whether the University failed to respond to alleged harassment of students based on their national origin (shared Jewish ancestry and/or Israeli) in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title VI.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

The University has faced enormous backlash from a range of affiliates, including politicians and longtime donors, over its initial response to the fighting in Israel and Gaza.

Over the weeks since, Harvard administrators have come under intense pressure to do more to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia on a campus bitterly divided over the Israel-Hamas war.

The federal investigation into Harvard follows a confrontation at an Oct. 18 pro-Palestine “die-in” between pro-Palestine protesters and a man identified by other outlets as an Israeli student at the Harvard Business School.

The Israeli student walked around the protest and used his phone to film the protesters’ faces. Organizers of the protest repeatedly told the man to leave and used security vests and traditional Palestinian scarves to prevent him from filming people participating in the “die-in.”

A video of the confrontation that circulated widely on social media shows the student coming into physical contact with the protesters as they attempted to escort him away. The incident prompted several prominent Harvard alumni to condemn the University for not doing more to combat antisemitism on campus.

In addition to the Education Department’s probe, the Oct. 18 incident is also under investigation by the FBI and the Harvard University Police Department.

Harvard has announced several efforts to combat antisemitism over the past month.

University President Claudine Gay formed an advisory group on antisemitism and announced that she would work with the group to implement antisemitism education and training for Harvard affiliates.

The Education Department opened its investigation into Harvard exactly one week before Gay is set to testify during a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about antisemitism on college and university campuses.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on X @mherszenhorn or on Threads @mileshersz.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on X @claireyuan33.

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