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More Than 300 Harvard Faculty Urge Garber To Negotiate with Pro-Palestine Protesters

A small group of faculty observes the Harvard Yard encampment during its first week. More than 300 faculty members urged interim President Alan Garber to negotiate with protesters in the encampment in a Tuesday letter.
A small group of faculty observes the Harvard Yard encampment during its first week. More than 300 faculty members urged interim President Alan Garber to negotiate with protesters in the encampment in a Tuesday letter. By Elyse C. Goncalves

More than 300 Harvard faculty members signed a letter sent to interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 that urged his administration to negotiate with the pro-Palestine student protesters staging an encampment in Harvard Yard.

The faculty letter came one day after Garber sent a University-wide email that threatened students participating in the occupation with involuntary leaves of absences if they do not cease participation in the encampment.

Many of Harvard’s most prominent professors signed onto the letter, including former Dean of Harvard College Evelyn M. Hammonds, Harvard Law School emeritus professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62, and former Harvard Radcliffe Institute Dean Lizabeth Cohen. Notably, four members of Garber’s presidential task force on anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias also signed the letter, including co-chair Ali S. Asani.

Garber’s Monday email marked the first time his administration had clarified the extent to which it was willing to discipline encampment participants. It also came without any attempt by Garber to formally negotiate with the pro-Palestine protesters.

Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine — the unrecognized student group leading the encampment — demanded Garber begin discussions with protesters by Monday evening, but the deadline passed without any action from his administration.

In response, HOOP organizers staged a protest at 7 p.m. on Monday that started outside the Yard before a group of more than 400 people marched to Garber’s private residence.

“If you won’t come to the negotiating table, we’re coming to your dinner table,” shouted one protester, while standing outside the front door to Garber’s home.

In the letter, which was also addressed to interim Provost John F. Manning ’82, faculty wrote that while they agreed with Garber that “candid, constructive dialogue” is needed to address disagreements, they were “concerned” by the lack of dialogue from the University.

Instead of meeting with protesters, they wrote, “the administration has issued escalating threats of punitive disciplinary action, the severity of which the university has not seen in decades.”

Manning acknowledged the letter in a statement Tuesday afternoon at a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, saying that the Central Administration had heard calls for dialogue from members of the faculty.

“Dialogue and discussion do not and cannot come as the result of disruption, demands, and ultimatums,” Manning said.

Some of Harvard’s peer universities — including Brown University and Columbia University — have attempted negotiations with protesters, with varying outcomes.

Brown University agreed to hold a vote of its trustees on divesting from Israel’s military actions in Palestine in exchange for students ending their encampment on Brown’s College Green. However, Brown has faced backlash from some donors — including some who have paused donations — because it agreed to some of the protesters’ demands.

Meanwhile, at Columbia University, demonstrations massively escalated after a breakdown in negotiations between protesters and administrators. Protesters occupied and barricaded themselves inside a building on campus, and Columbia subsequently authorized the New York Police Department to sweep its campus and arrest more than 100 people.

Currently, more than 60 Harvard students are facing disciplinary charges from the Administrative Board. In his Monday email, Garber noted that students placed on involuntary leave may not sit for exams, live in Harvard housing, or remain on campus.

That last sanction could open the door for the University to use police force to clear the encampment — something that, so far, Garber and Harvard University Police Department chief Victor A. Clay have appeared reluctant to do.

But Garber appears similarly reluctant to engage with the protesters.

Harvard has repeatedly rebuffed calls for divestment from Israel — one of the main demands for members of the encampment. University leadership told faculty at a town hall last week that — because much of the University’s endowment is invested through external fund managers whose contracts require secrecy — investment disclosure may be off the table as well.

Still, the letter will put pressure on Garber to initiate a conversation with protesters before moving ahead with his threat of involuntary leaves of absence. If Garber declines to do so, he risks losing the confidence of a significant portion of the University’s faculty members.

“We urge the administration to meet and engage in meaningful dialogue with peacefully protesting students,” the faculty letter stated.

—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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