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Administrators expected to place encampment members on involuntary leaves of absence over ongoing Harvard Yard occupation

Protesters set up tents and signs in front of University Hall, calling on Harvard to divest from Israel. Members of the encampment rejected a proposal from interim University President Alan M. Garber '76 to end their demonstration.
Protesters set up tents and signs in front of University Hall, calling on Harvard to divest from Israel. Members of the encampment rejected a proposal from interim University President Alan M. Garber '76 to end their demonstration. By Julian J. Giordano
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated May 10, 2024, at 2:11 a.m.

Members of the pro-Palestine encampment rejected a proposal from interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76 to end their two-week occupation of Harvard Yard and avoid receiving involuntary leave of absence notices, according to an Instagram post published shortly after midnight on Friday by the group leading the encampment.

Garber, facing pressure from his own faculty to negotiate with the student protesters, initiated a Wednesday evening meeting with several members of Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — a coalition of pro-Palestine student groups — to offer a potential meeting with more University officials to answer questions related to the protesters’ concerns about Harvard’s investments in Israel.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed the Wednesday meeting in a statement early Friday morning, which included Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and two faculty observers in addition to Garber and the protesters.

HOOP representatives did not accept the off-ramp offered to them by Garber and instead responded with a counterproposal of their own. The breakdown in negotiations makes it almost certain that dozens of students who participated in the encampment will soon be placed on involuntary leave from their schools, a fact that HOOP itself acknowledged in the Friday post.

“In short, Garber ignored us, threatened us, refused to negotiate with us, and will now be the first Harvard president in recent memory to suspend students en masse for protesting,” HOOP wrote.

Swain wrote that Garber “has made clear the University’s commitment to reasoned discussion of complex issues, including the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.”

“However, as he said, ‘initiating these difficult and crucial conversations does not require, or justify, interfering with the educational environment and Harvard’s academic mission,’” Swain added.

Since the start of the encampment, HOOP demanded the University disclose and divest from all investments in Israel. Garber and other senior Harvard officials, however, have repeatedly indicated that the University will not seek to divest its endowment from Israel — a point Garber reaffirmed to HOOP representatives during the Wednesday meeting.

Under involuntary leaves of absence, students will not be able to finish final exams or stay in Harvard housing, and must “cease to be present on campus until reinstated” — marking the most forceful action the University has taken against protesters since the encampment began two weeks ago.

Swain wrote that “disciplinary procedures and administrative referrals for placing protesters on involuntary leave continue to move forward.”

“Garber shut down our most basic demands, making clear that the meeting was not a negotiation, but merely a ‘conversation,’” HOOP wrote. “All he would concede was the possibility for more ‘conversations’ — not negotiations — conditional on the immediate removal of the encampment.”

Swain confirmed that Garber made it clear to the protesters that the Wednesday meeting was “not a negotiation of protesters’ demands.”

“He reaffirmed the University’s commitment, as an institution where debate and discussion are central to our mission, that there would be more opportunities for constructive dialogue on these issues across our community in the coming months,” Swain wrote.

The meeting with University officials about Harvard’s endowment that the protesters rejected in favor of continuing the occupation would have potentially included at least one member of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility — a group that determines how the University votes on shareholder matters related to investments in publicly traded companies.

HOOP also wrote in the post that protesters chose to remain in the encampment “because we know there is no sacrifice too large to protest Harvard’s complicity in genocide.” Since it began on April 24, the encampment has expanded to the portion of the Yard, where Commencement, Harvard’s graduation ceremony, is annually held.

The group’s decision to remain in the Yard and risk involuntary leaves of absence raises the possibility of Harvard’s administration asking police to clear the encampment.

While Garber said in an interview last month that there is a “very high bar” before asking law enforcement to take action against student protesters, he has also signaled in recent days that the University does not intend to let the encampment derail Commencement.

Swain wrote that “Garber also reiterated that the encampment must end so that thousands of students can be recognized for their academic achievement at Harvard’s Commencement.”

Wednesday’s meeting marks the first time Garber has sat down with protesters since the start of the encampment. For the first two weeks of the occupation, Garber mostly ignored the protesters even as they repeatedly called on the University’s administration to engage with their demands.

Last week, the group gave Garber until Monday at 5 p.m. to begin negotiating with the protesters — a deadline that passed without any acknowledgement from the University.

Instead, Garber sent a University-wide email on Monday morning threatening “involuntary leave” for protesters who continued to remain in the encampment in Harvard Yard. Garber’s email did not address the deadline set by HOOP or express any intention to begin negotiations with the group.

The meeting with Garber comes after HOOP alleged on social media Wednesday afternoon that University leadership “repeatedly” ignored requests to meet from pro-Palestine groups and students since October 2023.

HOOP’s Friday morning post also included a screenshot of an email from Garber in which he responded to the group’s decision to reject his proposal and remain in the encampment.

“I regret that you have declined this opportunity by deciding to continue the encampment,” Garber wrote in the email. “Best, Alan.”

The Instagram post included HOOP’s response.

“We regret that you have declined this opportunity by deciding to continue punishing students for protesting a genocide,” the group wrote. “Best, HOOP.”

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

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

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