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More than 180 faculty members urged interim Harvard President Alan Garber to not negotiate with pro-Palestine protesters and end the encampment in Harvard Yard.
More than 180 faculty members urged interim Harvard President Alan Garber to not negotiate with pro-Palestine protesters and end the encampment in Harvard Yard. By Jack R. Trapanick
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

More than 180 Harvard faculty urged interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76 and interim Provost John F. Manning ’82 to end the pro-Palestine encampment in Harvard Yard in an open letter.

The letter — which asked Harvard to enforce its conduct rules against protesters and described the occupation’s continued presence as “an atmosphere of lawlessness” — was sent to Garber’s office Thursday afternoon.

Since the letter was sent, protesters revealed they met with Garber Wednesday evening to discuss ending the encampment. Protesters refused to accept an off-ramp to end the encampment and avoid involuntary leave of absence notices. On Friday morning, the University began placing encampment participants on involuntary leaves of absence.

Though Garber remained mostly silent on the encampment until his threat of leaves of absences in a Monday email, his offer to the protesters — made during the Wednesday meeting — is precisely the type of approach the letter urged against.

“Prompt removal of the encampment should be followed by civil dialogue with those representing the views of the protesters who remain in good standing with the university,” the letter read. “The sooner the encampment is removed, the sooner a meaningful conversation can begin.”

The letter also urged Harvard not to “make concessions to protesters that would have not been granted had they followed the rules,” arguing that to do so would violate the principles of “civil discourse” and encourage future disruptions.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the letter.

College and University officials have repeatedly told the students in the encampment that they are violating Harvard policy since it began late last month. At least 30 students have been called before the Harvard College Administrative Board and are likely to face disciplinary action.

But Garber offered a meeting with more top University officials and said students would not be put on involuntary leave if they immediately dismantled the encampment in the Yard.

Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — the organization staging the encampment — said they rejected the demands in an announcement early on Friday, and by Friday morning, students had begun receiving notices that they were placed on leave. Students placed on involuntary leave may not complete final exams, stay in Harvard housing, or be present on Harvard’s campus until they are reinstated.

The letter encouraged protesters to accept disciplinary consequences, arguing that a willingness to do so is the “difference between civil disobedience and mob rule.”

The letter represents a growing rift among Harvard’s faculty over how the University ought to handle the encampment as Commencement approaches. It follows a Tuesday open letter from more than 300 faculty members urging Garber to negotiate with the students.

However, Harvard officials — Garber included — have been unwilling to engage with the students’ demands, which include disclosing and divesting from all companies and institutions with ties to Israel. Swain said the Wednesday meeting was “not a negotiation of protesters’ demands.”

Garber “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 in a statement early Friday.

The Thursday letter’s signatories include psychology professor Steven A. Pinker and former Harvard Medical School dean Jeffrey S. Flier — both leaders of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard, a faculty group whose members have been prominent in free speech debates following Oct. 7.

Three members of Harvard’s task force on combating antisemitism — Medical School professor Jerome E. Groopman, Harvard Law School professor Jesse M. Fried, and Computer Science professor Boaz Barak — also signed. Law School professor emeritus Laurence H. Tribe ’62 joined both Thursday’s letter and the open letter on Monday urging Garber to hold conversations with protesters.

In addition to faculty signatories, the letter was signed by several other Harvard affiliates, including Shabbos “Alexander” Kestenbaum, a Harvard Divinity School student who is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit accusing Harvard of failing to address campus antisemitism.

Its authors cast the encampment as a threat to academic freedom and a burden on University operations, writing that Harvard police and administrators “have been stretched to the breaking point.”

The letter contended that the encampment has “prevented the use of a central campus space by many students” and displaced rule-abiding student groups from activities they might otherwise conduct in Harvard Yard.

Removal of the encampment would be consistent with time, place, and manner restrictions on free speech, the letter argued.

“We fully support your efforts to end the encampment swiftly and as peacefully as possible, so that the academic missions of our community, including exams and commencement, can go forward without further disturbance,” the letter concluded.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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