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Harvard President Garber Breaks Silence on Encampment, Threatens ‘Involuntary Leave’ for Protesters

Tents and banners in Harvard Yard call on the University to divest from investments and companies in Israel and the West Bank. Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 threatened to suspend protesters who continued to occupy the Yard.
Tents and banners in Harvard Yard call on the University to divest from investments and companies in Israel and the West Bank. Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 threatened to suspend protesters who continued to occupy the Yard. By Marina Qu
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated May 6, 2024, at 12:08 p.m.

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 broke his silence on the pro-Palestine encampment Monday morning in a University-wide email threatening “involuntary leave” for protesters who continued to occupy Harvard Yard.

“I write today with this simple message: The continuation of the encampment presents a significant risk to the educational environment of the University,” Garber wrote. “Those who participate in or perpetuate its continuation will be referred for involuntary leave from their Schools.”

“The encampment favors the voices of a few over the rights of many who have experienced disruption in how they learn and work at a critical time of the semester,” Garber wrote. “I call on those participating in the encampment to end the occupation of Harvard Yard.”

Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — the unrecognized pro-Palestine student group organizing the encampment — wrote in a statement on Monday that “Garber’s threats represent a significant and unprecedented escalation by the University, and we will respond at our press conference at 5 PM ET today at Johnston Gate, Harvard Yard.”

The escalation comes as the end of finals loom, leaving just more than two weeks until Harvard’s Commencement ceremonies, which are expected to host thousands of Harvard affiliates and families, as well as dozens of prominent guests.

In the email, Garber wrote that students who are suspended will not be able to finish exams, stay in Harvard housing, and “must cease to be present on campus until reinstated.”

If students are suspended and barred from campus, it will open the door to police response to remove the protesters from the Yard.

Still, Garber did not indicate that the University is currently considering forcefully removing the protesters, and has previously said there is a “very high bar” for police intervention.

He also did not express any intention of brokering an agreement with HOOP, which had previously set a Monday 5 p.m. deadline for negotiations to begin.

For 13 days, Garber has allowed the protesters to remain in their encampment while the University began disciplinary proceedings against the students. So far, the approach has allowed both Harvard and Garber to escape the national backlash that has hit other universities and their leadership.

Garber’s statement indicates that the University’s strategy for managing the encampment is now shifting.

Garber also suggested that the protesters’ actions could have an impact on Commencement. The encampment could lose significant support among Harvard affiliates — particularly graduating seniors — for any disruptions to the ceremony, which is attended by 32,000 people each year.

“The members of the Class of 2024 deserve to enjoy this milestone uninterrupted and unimpeded,” Garber wrote. “It would be especially painful if students who graduated from high school or college during the pandemic were denied a full graduation ceremony for a second time.”

The statement came just hours after Columbia University announced it had canceled its main commencement ceremony, following weeks of pro-Palestinian protests and an encampment on campus that have resulted in mass arrests.

Garber also wrote that he was “troubled by increasing reports” of intimidation and harassment by protesters in the encampment.

“When Harvard staff have requested to see IDs in order to enforce our policies, supporters of the encampment have at times yelled at them, tried to encircle them, and otherwise interfered with their work,” he wrote.

“We have also received reports that passers-by have been confronted, surveilled, and followed,” Garber added. “Such actions are indefensible and unacceptable.”

—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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