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Nearly 500 Harvard Faculty, Staff Blast Sanctions Against Pro-Palestine Protesters in Open Letter

Nearly 500 faculty and staff condemned the Harvard College Administrative Board's decision to discipline students involved in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment in a Monday letter.
Nearly 500 faculty and staff condemned the Harvard College Administrative Board's decision to discipline students involved in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment in a Monday letter. By Aiyana G. White
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Nearly 500 Harvard faculty and staff members signed an open letter Monday condemning the “unprecedented, disproportionate, and arbitrary” level of sanctions against pro-Palestine demonstrators who camped in Harvard Yard.

The letter — addressed to interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra, and College Dean Rakesh Khurana — was signed by more than 350 faculty members and 135 staff members spanning the University.

The signatories urged Harvard leadership to reverse the Harvard College Administrative Board’s decision to bar 14 seniors from graduating during this week’s Commencement ceremonies. They argued that the sanctions went against the “widespread understanding that the university would facilitate prompt graduation.”

The penalties have drawn widespread anger among faculty and students. At a Monday degree meeting, the FAS voted to add the names of the 13 seniors who were slated to receive their diplomas Thursday back to the list of recommended degree candidates.

The faculty and staff members who signed the letter wrote that they are “alarmed that Harvard undergraduate students who engaged in peaceful protest are being sanctioned in an unprecedented, disproportionate, and arbitrary manner.”

In total, the Ad Board suspended five undergraduates and placed at least 20 others on probation for their involvement in the encampment. The Ad Board’s decisions barred 15 seniors from graduating until next year at the earliest — including 13 who were on track to walk at Commencement this spring.

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment, but referred The Crimson to an email from Garber to Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine organizers detailing the terms of his agreement with protesters, who promised to peacefully end the encampment.

In the email, Garber promised that the University would encourage Harvard’s disciplinary bodies to “encourage the administrative boards or other disciplinary bodies within the schools to address cases expeditiously under existing precedent and practice (including taking into account where relevant the voluntary decision to leave the encampment), for all students, including those students eligible thereafter to graduate so that they may do so.”

The email did not explicitly promise leniency for students facing Ad Board proceedings.

Spokespeople for the FAS and the College did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Notable signatories of Monday’s letter include English professor Tracy K. Smith ’92, Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe, and History professor Vincent Brown. Six members of Harvard’s presidential task force on combating anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias signed the letter, including its three co-chairs — professors Ali S. Asani ’77, Wafaie W. Fawzi, and Asim I. Khwaja.

A document linked in the letter — titled “Details of Current Disciplinary Actions: for Concerned Faculty” — laid out a list of procedural criticisms.

The document describes the Ad Board penalties as “internally inconsistent” across Harvard’s schools, pointing to four — the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Law School — whose disciplinary boards chose not to penalize encampment participants with any sanctions harsher than a warning.

It alleged that the affected undergraduates had been “led to believe the process had been expedited specifically to allow them to graduate,” and suggested that external pressure — such as the ongoing investigation by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce — led to “procedural improvisations” to allow for harsher sanctions.

Those improvisations, the signatories argued, “threaten to undermine faculty governance and the integrity of our university.”

The signatories argued that the sanctions are a breach of trust between students and faculty and the administration.

“The primary outcome of these highly irregular Administrative Board proceedings will be to unduly harm these students’ future employment and current livelihood and to create further division on campus at a time when we should come together to honor our graduates,” the letter’s authors wrote.

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

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

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