Over 500 Harvard faculty members support university president in letter to board after antisemitism hearing

Over 500 Harvard faculty members support university president in letter to board after antisemitism hearing


More than 500 Harvard faculty members supported University President Claudine Gay in a letter to the school’s board Sunday, following intense blowback from a congressional hearing about the rise in antisemitism on campus, where Gay failed to clearly state whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated the Ivy League school’s rules. 

The Harvard Corporation and the Harvard Board of Overseers, the university’s second-highest governing body, met Sunday amid mounting pressure from donors and lawmakers to remove Gay from her post. 

According to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard Corporation is weighing whether to make a public statement in support of Gay. 

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, who testified alongside Gay at a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing last week, resigned on Saturday. By contrast, just two days after the fiery hearing, MIT’s executive committee had pledged “full and unreserved support” for MIT President Sally Kornbluth, issuing a statement that championed “her outstanding academic leadership, her judgment, her integrity, her moral compass, and her ability to unite our community around MIT’s core values.” 


Harvard president testifies

Harvard President Claudine Gay during a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sunday’s letter, with 511 signatures, said those Harvard faculty members “urge you in the strongest possible terms to defend the independence of the university and to resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom, including calls for the removal of President Claudine Gay.”

“The critical work of defending a culture of free inquiry in our diverse community cannot proceed if we let its shape be dictated by outside forces,” the letter – organized in part by history professor Maya R. Jasanoff and sent to the Corporation Sunday evening – added, according to the Harvard Crimson. 

Jasanoff told the student newspaper that “soundbites” from the hearing obscured Gay’s message. 

“There is, as I’ve said, definitely room to explore the parameters and clarify the parameters of free speech, and free expression, and academic freedom, and so on on campuses,” Jasanoff said, placing blame instead on the House committee leadership. “I don’t think that the people who were taking the lead in the congressional inquiries were doing so with good faith intentions.”

In a standout moment, House GOP Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., demanded Gay, Magill and Kornbluth answer whether calls on campus for intifada or the genocide of Jews violated their universities’ codes of conduct or rules against bullying and harassment. 

“At Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment?” Stefanik asked.

Box truck demanding President Gay be fired

A truck on Harvard’s campus demanding President Claudine Gay be fired for her handling of antisemitism on campus. (Fox News Digital )

“It can be, depending on the context,” Gay responded. However, Stefanik implored her for a yes or no answer. 

“Antisemitic speech when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct, and we do take action,” Gay said.


“So the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?” Stefanik asked.

“Again, it depends on the context,” Gay said.

“It does not depend on the context. The answer is yes, and this is why you should resign,” Stefanik responded. “These are unacceptable answers across the board.”

Gay apologized after the hearing.

“I got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures,” Gay said. “What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard and will never go unchallenged. Substantively, I failed to convey what is my truth.”

Seventy-four House members sent a bipartisan letter to the governing boards of Harvard, MIT and UPenn, calling on all three to immediately remove the president of each institution.

Billionaire Harvard alum Bill Ackman sent a letter of his own to the Harvard governing boards of directors on Sunday, arguing that because of Gay’s “failure to condemn the most vile and barbaric terrorism the world has ever seen, for supporting rather than condemning 34 Harvard-branded student organizations who hold Israel ‘entirely responsible’ for Hamas’ barbaric acts, for failing to enforce Harvard’s own rules on student conduct, and for her other failures of leadership, President Gay catalyzed an explosion of antisemitism and hate on campus that is unprecedented in Harvard’s history.” 

Sharing the letter on X, Ackman wrote that he was aware that Gay’s failures “have led to billions of dollars of canceled, paused, and withdrawn donations to the university,” including from some of the most generous Jewish donors. 

Stefanik grills university presidents

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Derek J. Penslar, another Harvard history professor who helped spearhead the letter defending Gay, told the Crimson he does not think “that signing this letter is an exoneration of the University for its handling of issues involving antisemitism and Islamophobia over the last couple of months,” but argued that decisions on university leadership should not be made by alumni or politicians. 

Among the more than 500 signatories are Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62, Economics professor and former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman ’92, and Pulitzer Prize winner and University Professor Annette Gordon-Reed. Tribe, notably, was critical of Gay’s testimony, posting on X that her “hesitant, formulaic, and bizarrely evasive answers were deeply troubling to me and many of my colleagues, students, and friends[.]”

Along with Jasanoff and Penslar, history professor Alison Frank Johnson was also among the group of faculty to organize Sunday’s letter. Government professor Ryan D. Enos told the Crimson about 10 of those faculty organizers already sent an earlier letter last week urging the Corporation “to resist any outside pressure on how they handle leadership in the University.”


“We want them to state this publicly: that they support the leadership of President Gay and the ability of faculty and students to go about free inquiry,” Enos said. 

Fox News’ Nikolas Lanum contributed to this report.




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