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Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber sits in a February interview in his office at Massachusetts Hall. Garber said he would not rule out police response to student protest, but that it would need a high bar.
Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber sits in a February interview in his office at Massachusetts Hall. Garber said he would not rule out police response to student protest, but that it would need a high bar. By Marina Qu
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

As Harvard takes preventative steps to deter large-scale pro-Palestine student protests, interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76 said he would not rule out a police response, but said the University has a “very, very high bar” before resorting to law enforcement.

“If our policies were violated — particularly, if we had concerns about violence or there were any threats to safety — we would not eliminate any option from consideration,” Garber said in an interview with The Crimson on Monday.

Garber’s comments came just hours before Harvard College suspended the Harvard Undergraduate Palestinian Solidarity Committee for the remainder of the spring semester.

The group was suspended after being placed on probation last month f0r coordinating with unrecognized student groups. The College cited the group’s Friday protest — organized jointly with unrecognized groups — as evidence of policy violations.

The decision came amidst a rise in pro-Palestine student protests at universities across the country, which have resulted in arrests at Columbia University and Yale University.

But as other pro-Palestine student groups have erected “liberated zones” and pitched tents on university property, Harvard’s campus has been relatively quiet. While 200 people attended the Friday protest to show solidarity with arrested Columbia organizers, it was substantially smaller than actions on other college campuses.

The decision to suspend the PSC on Monday could also be an effort by Harvard administrators to discourage protests similar to the encampments at Yale and Columbia. The University also shut down Harvard Yard to non-affiliates until Friday afternoon and increased its security presence on campus.

Garber also declined to criticize Columbia President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik’s decision to suspend student protestors and then have them arrested for trespassing last week. Shafik came under intense fire from Columbia faculty and students after she requested assistance from the New York Police Department to make arrests on campus.

“Not knowing what they knew at that time, I’m not in a position to criticize their decision,” Garber said.

Following a series of protests last fall, Garber and 15 top deans at Harvard sent a University-wide email in January to clarify Harvard’s policies surrounding campus protests.

The email — which clarified that protests had to be registered in advance and were prohibited from taking place in libraries, dormitories, and classrooms — effectively served as a warning to student activists involved in organizations like the PSC.

The warning seemed to have its intended effect, at least initially, as the spring saw substantially fewer campus protests compared to the fall.

The last major pro-Palestine protest — a 24-hour occupation of University Hall in November by nine students — ended without arrest.

During the interview on Monday, Garber also said the University remains staunchly opposed to calls for it to divest from Israel — one of the central demands of pro-Palestinian campus activists.

Even as Garber said he “will not entertain” calls for divestment, he admitted to not knowing whether the University is still invested in Israel.

As of 2019, the Harvard Management Company had $86,625 invested in companies linked to the Israeli military and roughly $200 million invested directly in companies the United Nations identified as being tied to Israeli settlements in Palestine.

“It is completely fair for the students to make their statements and to make their recommendations,” Garber said.

“I’ll only say that there are various ways to express your views and it does not necessarily mean that the University needs to change its investment policy or engage in activities like academic boycotts that run contrary to academic principles and University principles,” he added.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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