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Harvard Places Encampment Protesters on Involuntary Leaves of Absence

Harvard began placing students involved in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment on involuntarily leaves of absence Friday morning.
Harvard began placing students involved in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment on involuntarily leaves of absence Friday morning. By Frank S. Zhou
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated May 10, 2024, at 4:31 p.m.

University administrators placed 20 students on involuntary leaves of absence for their involvement in the ongoing pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard on Friday morning, according to a person briefed on the notices.

The leaves of absence — which had previously been threatened by interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 on Monday — are the most extensive and forceful actions the University has taken since the encampment started two weeks ago.

At least 11 of the 20 students who received involuntary leave of absence notices were undergraduates.

The decision to place the students on involuntary leave comes just hours after protesters said they rejected an offer from interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 to end the encampment, which has remained in the center of Harvard Yard since April 24.

In an Instagram post Friday morning announcing the involuntary leave notices, HOOP organizers wrote that “students are now facing eviction, food insecurity, degree withholding, and deportation.”

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement on Friday that the encampment has continued “in violation of university policies, creating a significant disruption to the educational environment at a key time in the semester as students are taking finals and preparing for Commencement.”

“The University has repeatedly communicated that disciplinary procedures and administrative referrals for placing protesters on involuntary leave continue to move forward,” Newton wrote.

Students placed on involuntary leave will not be able to finish exams, stay in Harvard housing, and “must cease to be present on campus until reinstated” — effectively barring them from campus.

The disciplinary crackdown follows repeated warnings from administrators amid escalating tensions between protesters and the University. More than 60 students were also facing disciplinary action from the Administrative Board — an administrative body responsible for the application and enforcement of their respective schools’ policies — HOOP organizers said Monday.

Involuntary leaves are separate from the Administrative Board process, which will continue for students who are facing disciplinary action.

While Garber previously stated that the use of police force on the protesters would require a “very high bar,” placing students on involuntary leaves of absence opens the door for the University to resort to police intervention and initiate arrests of people who remain in the encampment on charges of trespassing.

Students mounted an encampment in the Yard amid a wave of similar demonstrations at universities across the country that have resulted in violent clashes on campuses, including thousands of student arrests and suspensions. Since it began, the encampment at Harvard has since expanded to over 50 tents in both the New Yard and the Old Yard, where Harvard’s Commencement ceremonies are held annually.

The action seeks to dismantle the encampment as the academic year comes to a close, leaving just over two weeks until Commencement — which draws thousands of University affiliates and relatives, as well as dozens of prominent guests, to Harvard’s campus.

As Harvard Yard remains indefinitely closed to non-affiliates, the encampment has remained largely peaceful.

While encampment protesters have repeatedly called for the University to negotiate and engage with their demands — which include Harvard’s disclosure of investments and divestment from Israel — the involuntary leave notices signal that the University does not intend to negotiate with the group. Harvard has repeatedly rejected calls to divest from Israel.

HOOP wrote in an Instagram post shortly after midnight on Friday that they chose to remain in the encampment and reject Garber’s proposal because “we know there is no sacrifice too large to protest Harvard’s complicity in genocide.”

As of Friday evening, the encampment remains mounted in Harvard Yard.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

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

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