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On Jan. 31, The Crimson’s Editorial Board published the editorial “Kenneth Roth: The One that (Almost) Got Away,” celebrating Kenneth Roth’s fellowship appointment to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and lambasting Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf’s initial withdrawal of the fellowship offer.
On multiple occasions, Kenneth Roth has claimed that donor-driven censorship led to Harvard’s decision to rescind his fellowship offer from the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. “If anybody was in a position to not let donors dictate,” he told The Crimson, “ — or not let donors censor — topics of academic inquiry, it would be Harvard.”
Neither Roth, however, nor his most ardent supporters on campus have marshaled any evidence documenting the alleged plot by moneyed interests to censor him and hobble academic freedom.
To the contrary, Elmendorf specifically stated in an email to HKS students and staff that the “decision was not influenced by donors.”
I am troubled by the persistent use of clichéd antisemitic dog whistles and canards in Roth’s claims surrounding his rescinded fellowship. I would have expected the so-called “godfather” of human rights to be more cautious about perpetuating harmful antisemitic myths and conspiracy theories. One need not have a Ph.D. in Human Rights to recognize the dog whistles Roth continues to amplify.
In my view, once the Carr Center offered Roth the fellowship, Dean Elmendorf should have simply stayed mum. Instead, by compelling HKS to retract the appointment, and then, under public pressure, reversing his veto, the hullabaloo attracted far more publicity than the initial appointment would have otherwise generated. Did no one at HKS see this mess coming? If ever there was an avoidable controversy.
Roth’s controversial leadership of Human Rights Watch is public record and speaks for itself. There are plenty of reasons, in other words, to question the value he would bring to HKS, without it being part of a covert Zionist conspiracy.
In an interview with The New York Times, Roth admitted he has no evidence of donor-driven censorship. Yet, he continues to allege that pro-Israel donors are in control and intent on blocking his position at HKS.
I share the Editorial Board’s desire for greater transparency with respect to faculty hiring and fellowship appointments, insofar as it might finally lead Roth to put the inflammatory and thinly veiled tropes to bed.
Michael E. Snow is a third-year student at Harvard Law School.
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