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Harvard Task Forces Release First Recommendations on Antisemitism, Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim Bias

Harvard's presidential task forces on combating antisemitism and anti-Arab and anit-Mulism bias released preliminary recommendations on Wednesday morning.
Harvard's presidential task forces on combating antisemitism and anti-Arab and anit-Mulism bias released preliminary recommendations on Wednesday morning. By Julian J. Giordano
By Cam E. Kettles and Tilly R. Robinson, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard’s presidential task forces to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias released their first recommendations on Wednesday, urging the University to fund a visiting professorship in Palestinian studies for next spring and tackle a culture of exclusion and discrimination against both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students.

Both groups reported widespread discrimination against students based both on their identity and their political views, and suggested the University has failed to adequately address students’ concerns over antisemitism or anti-Palestinian bias.

“We will commence detailed review and implementation of the shorter-term recommendations over the summer,” interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 wrote in an email announcing the recommendations, but stopped short of pledging to fully implement them as written.

Garber’s implementation of the recommendations will mark another major test as Harvard’s governing boards hold off on announcing their process for selecting the University’s next president — and as he tries to prove to both Congress and Harvard affiliates that he is up to the task of handling antisemitism and other forms of bias on campus.

The task force to address anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab bias said Arab and Muslim students, faculty, and staff reported “a deap-seated sense of fear” and a “pervasive climate of intolerance” toward pro-Palestine views. The task force to combat antisemitism likewise said that Jewish and Israeli students faced “shunning, harassment, and intimidation.”

The highly-anticipated reports from the task forces, which were announced weeks after Garber took office in January, echo longstanding complaints from students about feelings of bias and harassment on campus since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The twin task forces operated separately, but sought to coordinate their timelines for releasing recommendations. Since Garber created the task forces in January, both launched an extensive listening campaign that included more than 85 listening sessions between task force members and Harvard faculty, students, and staff.

The leadership of the antisemitism task force in particular came under serious scrutiny over the course of the semester, with antisemitism task force co-chair Derek J. Penslar — a professor of Jewish history — facing national scrutiny over his past criticisms of Israel and accusations that he had downplayed campus antisemitism.

Harvard Business School professor Raffaella Sadun, who had been tapped as the task force’s other co-chair, resigned from the group in February over concerns that the University had not precommitted to implementing the group’s recommendations once they were issued.

The groups began to publicize their findings over the course of the semester, presenting them to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and issuing dire warnings in op-eds in The Crimson about Harvard’s campus climate.

“We must strengthen our ties with a sustained commitment to engaging each other with tact, decency, and compassion,” Garber wrote. “Our learning cannot be limited to purely academic pursuits if we hope to fulfill our responsibilities to one another and to the institution that is our intellectual home.”

The Wednesday recommendations ask Harvard to make statements condemning forms of discrimination and affirming existing values. The University’s response will test its new pledge not to take positions on public policy issues.

“While we recognize that Harvard will be issuing fewer university-wide statements, it is crucial that statements from University and School leaders express solidarity for all groups equally, without overlooking affected groups,” the anti-Muslim and Anti-Arab task force wrote.

“Leaders should learn from past mistakes and aim for adequate balance in their responses, taking care not to give the impression that they are taking sides on contentious issues,” they added later in the report.

They also recommended auditing academic resources on the Middle East and Palestine, creating a prayer space for Muslims on campus, consulting a group of “trusted leaders from across the campus’ diverse communities’ to give feedback on university statements prior to release, and changing the task force’s name to include anti-Palestinian bias.

The report zeroed in on doxxing as “a significant concern that affects not only physical safety and mental well-being, but also future career prospects.” They called on Harvard to immediately denounce the attacks.

The task force on combating antisemitism wrote in its report that Israeli and pro-Israel students have described an environment of exclusion and “political litmus tests” in student activities and alleged discrimination by professors and teaching fellows.

The report’s authors slammed what they described as a “lack of follow-up after complaints regarding antisemitic expression or behavior,” feeding a perception that Harvard is not “committed to imposing substantive consequences for antisemitic expression or action.”

The report described social media as a source of antisemitic rhetoric and urged the University to “make clear that harassment, abuse and intimidation in Harvard-related social media postings could have disciplinary consequences.”

The report also urged University offices — including the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging — to add combating antisemitism to the scope of their anti-discrimination efforts and to implement antisemitism awareness training for students.

“To the extent that Orientation discusses issues of oppression and injustice, antisemitism and anti-Israeli bias should be included,” the report added.

Both task forces urged the University to publish aggregated data on the number and outcomes of disciplinary cases related to discrimination complaints.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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

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