Former Obama adviser: Don’t let politicians take over Harvard

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Amid outrage over comments they made during a hearing on anti semitism on their campuses, presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have faced calls from politicians and donors to resign – and one, Penn President Liz Magill, is already out of the job.

But some, including a former Obama adviser, are defending Harvard President Claudine Gay, and urging the school not to bend to external pressure.

“I really hope we don’t let donors & politicians dictate who leads our school. Claudine Gay denounced calling for genocide before the hearing. She denounced it in the hearing. And she denounced it after the hearing,” Jason Furman, a Harvard professor who previously chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama wrote on X late Saturday night.

“We have work to do as a school. On anti-semitism. On Islamaphobia. On academic freedom & free speech. On viewpoint diversity. On Veritas. We need to redouble efforts on many of these,” Furman wrote, “But caving to donors & politicians will ultimately cost us our academic freedom & free speech.”

In the hours after the five-hour grilling from lawmakers Tuesday, clips of Magill, Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth responding to intense questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) went viral, as the presidents dodged on questioning about pro-Palestinian student protesters’ calls for “intifada” or “the genocide of Jews” — declining to directly lay out whether those calls violated their schools’ policies.

The backlash came from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and from the White House.

“It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: Calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country. Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement Wednesday.

Magill, who will stay in her role until an interim president is selected, faced scorching criticism from top Democrats in her state, and from Penn alumni, donors, and other lawmakers.

Top Massachusetts lawmakers, many of whom are Harvard alumni or have ties to the school, have been less vocal in speaking out against the remarks from Gay and Kornbluth — though Reps. Seth Moulton and Jake Auchincloss (both Harvard alumni) said in a joint statement Wednesday that Gay’s argument that school protects students’ free speech “rings hollow.”

On Saturday night, Harvard law professor Ben Eidelson also came to Gay’s defense.

“I’m so dismayed by Liz Magill’s resignation and I so hope that Claudine Gay@Harvard will not follow. I fear too few of us have said what many of us think: She did nothing wrong, & the real failure of leadership would be surrendering to a campaign so hostile to our values,” Eidelson

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