Harvard Board Backs University President after Congressional Remarks

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., December 12, 2023.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Harvard University’s governing board declared its support for the Ivy League school’s president on Tuesday, a day after meeting to weigh the public backlash following remarks she made at last week’s congressional hearing on antisemitism.

The Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing body, in a statement said it had reaffirmed its support for Harvard President Claudine Gay’s continued leadership.

“Our extensive deliberations affirm our confidence that President Gay is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing,” the 11-member board wrote.

Its decision was first reported by the Harvard Crimson. A representative for Harvard on Monday did not respond to a request for comment on the board’s reported meeting.

Some donors, alumni and members of Congress called for Gay to resign, as her fellow Ivy League president at University of Pennsylvania, Liz Magill, did over the weekend. But many faculty and other alumni have rushed to defend Gay and asked the governing body to do the same.

A House of Representatives hearing last week increased public outcry over how U.S. colleges are handling campus protests since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Three university presidents declined to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer when asked if calling for the genocide of Jews would violate school codes of conduct regarding bullying and harassment.

Gay, Magill and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told lawmakers context was important and they had to take free speech into consideration. Gay later apologized for her remarks in an interview with Harvard’s student newspaper.

“At Harvard, we champion open discourse and academic freedom, and we are united in our strong belief that calls for violence against our students and disruptions of the classroom experience will not be tolerated,” the Corporation wrote in its statement supporting Gay.

U.S. university leaders have taken heat from both Jewish communities, which have said they are tolerating antisemitism, and Pro-Palestinian groups, which have accused schools of being neutral or antagonistic towards their cause.

Since Nov. 16, the U.S. Department of Education has opened investigations into several universities for possible ethnic discrimination, particularly relating to an uptick in reports of antisemitism, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination and harassment on college campuses since Hamas’ attack on Israel, the agency said. As of Tuesday, the list of schools under investigation included Stanford University, Rutgers University, Tulane University, as well as Harvard and Penn.