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Harvard Alumni Sue University, Alleging Devaluation of Degree Over Antisemitism on Campus

The John Harvard Statue sits in Harvard Yard. Ten Harvard alumni filed a federal lawsuit against the University last Tuesday, alleging that Harvard's failure to address campus antisemitism has devalued their degrees.
The John Harvard Statue sits in Harvard Yard. Ten Harvard alumni filed a federal lawsuit against the University last Tuesday, alleging that Harvard's failure to address campus antisemitism has devalued their degrees. By Frank S. Zhou
By Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writer

Ten Harvard alumni filed a federal lawsuit against the University last Tuesday, alleging that Harvard’s failure to address “rampant” antisemitism on campus has “significantly diminished” the value of their degree.

The suit, filed in the United States District Court for Massachusetts, references an implicit contract between the University and its students “to uphold a certain standard of higher education and reputability” so that its graduates would enjoy “life-long prestige.” The plaintiffs argue that the University, by “failing to adequately address antisemitism on its campus,” has breached that contract.

“Harvard has directly caused the value and prestige of Plaintiffs’ Harvard degrees to be diminished and made a mockery out of Harvard graduates in the employment world and beyond,” the complaint states.

The suit also argues that Harvard breached and continues to breach its “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” and its responsibility to uphold its values and “eliminate, or at least, not condone antisemitism and harassment.”

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Judge Indira Talwani recused herself Wednesday morning from hearing motions for both the students’ lawsuit and the alumni lawsuit. Talwani did not provide a reason for the decision.

The lawsuit alleges that Harvard “has permitted, even sanctioned, pro-Hamas rallies” and that “mobs of pro-Hamas students and faculty” have “harassed and assaulted fellow students and anyone on campus who they thought is Jewish or supports Israel.”

During a pro-Palestine “die-in” at Harvard Business School on Oct. 18, several protestors confronted a Jewish student who was filming demonstrators’ faces. Protestors blocked the man’s camera and told him repeatedly to “exit,” coming into physical contact with him while escorting him out.

The suit documents several allegations of antisemitism on Harvard’s campus, including the controversial letter signed by more than 30 student groups calling Israel “entirely responsible” for the Oct. 7 attacks, as well as chants and remarks made by speakers during pro-Palestine rallies and former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s controversial Dec. 5 congressional testimony.

The complaint states that “various businesses, companies, and law firms have stated that they will no longer hire from Harvard” — in apparent reference to statements made by companies regarding the signatories of the controversial letter — and argues that even students who did not sign the letter were “bound to face obstacles in the job market.”

Tammie R. Purow, an alumna of the Law School and one of the ten plaintiffs, said in an emailed statement that the lawsuit comes in response to the various controversies surrounding Harvard.

“This alumni lawsuit reflects a broad sentiment among graduates who are deeply disturbed about the rampant antisemitism that has been festering at Harvard over the past several years and exacerbated by the horrific Hamas attacks on October 7, 2023 and the University’s leadership crisis in failing to curtail the antisemitism on campus and in the classrooms,” she wrote.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, one of the attorneys representing the alumni, wrote in a Wednesday email that the team hopes the suit “will send a powerful message to the Harvard administration and other colleges that they need to take massive steps to effectively rein in the antisemitism and support for Hamas terror by faculty and students.”

The alumni seek an injunction that would force Harvard to terminate faculty and staff are “responsible for” antisemitism and take disciplinary measures against students engaging in antisemitic speech and conduct.

The alumni also seek financial compensation for the alleged devaluation of their degrees.

The lawsuit comes as Harvard continues to face scrutiny from Congress and on campus. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce issued subpoenas to University leadership on Feb. 16 as part of its investigation into alleged antisemitism on campus.

Last month, six Jewish students sued the University, alleging its failure to address “severe and pervasive” antisemitism on campus. The Jan. 10 suit argues that Harvard violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by institutions that receive federal funding.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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