Harvard Anti-Semitism Task Force Co-Chair Resigns After A Month

Harvard Anti-Semitism Task Force Co-Chair Resigns After A Month

Harvard Anti-Semitism Task Force Co-Chair Resigns After A Month

Something is up at Harvard, besides the anti-Semitism that the administration is being sued over.

As our regular readers will know, the jaw-dropping actions and testimony of former Harvard president Claudine Gay in regards to anti-Semitic speech on campus wasn’t enough to get the Board of Trustees to remove her, but the plagiarism scandal that soon erupted ended up sealing her fate as the shortest-serving Harvard president to date.

Since then, Harvard has been in the headlines for plagiarism by other administration officials, and a target of a Title VI investigation by the Department of Education, as well as a lawsuit by Jewish students.

This led to first the creation of a Harvard anti-Semitism advisory group at the end of October last year by then-President Gay, which saw the resignation of Rabbi David Wolpe from the group after Gay’s disasterous testimony to Congress. After Gay’s resignation, interim Harvard president Alan M. Garber announced the creation of TWO new “presidential task force” groups – one to address anti-Semitism, one to address anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias, in January.

Right off the bat, the anti-Semitism task force had issues, as there were objections to one of the announced co-chairs. Professor Derek Penslar was the target of scrutiny when he was named to the task force by some familiar names.

Garber’s selection of Penslar, who also serves as the director of Harvard’s Center for Jewish Studies, came under fire from an array of figures including billionaire Harvard donor Bill A. Ackman ’88 and former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers over Penslar’s past public comments about Israel and allegations that he downplayed antisemitism on campus.

“Prof Penslar has publicly minimized Harvard’s anti-Semitism problem, rejected the definition used by the US government in recent years of anti-Semitism as too broad, invoked the need for the concept of settler colonialism in analyzing Israel, referred to Israel as an apartheid state and more,” Summers wrote in a Sunday post on X.

“None of this in my view is problematic for a professor at Harvard or even for a member of the task force but for the co-chair of an anti-Semitism task force that is being paralleled with an Islamophobia task force it seems highly problematic,” he added.

In particular, critics pointed to Penslar’s decision to sign an open letter in August — prior to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack — that said “Israel’s long-standing occupation” of Gaza resulted in a “regime of apartheid.” Penslar also penned a Dec. 29 op-ed in The Crimson, in which he urged readers to rethink definitions of antisemitism that classify criticisms of Israel as antisemitic.

Some of Penslar’s colleagues came to his defense, and he stayed on the task force as co-chair, despite Ackman and Summers’s objections. Well, on Sunday evening, the Harvard Crimson reported that the other co-chair, Harvard Business School professor Raffaella Sadun, announced that she was resigning from the task force. Remember, this group is only a month old!

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 appointed Sadun in January to lead the task force as a co-chair last month. Her decision to resign was confirmed in statements from Sadun and Garber on Sunday.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to help advance the vital work to combat antisemitism and believe that President Garber has assembled an excellent task force,” Sadun wrote. “I will continue to support efforts to tackle antisemitism at Harvard in any way I can from my faculty position.”

“Professor Sadun has expressed her desire to refocus her efforts on her research, teaching and administrative responsibilities at HBS,” Garber wrote. “Her insights and passion for this work have helped shape the mandate for the task force and how it can best productively advance the important work ahead.”

Late on Sunday, the Crimson then covered an email from interim President Garber, annoucing a new co-chair for the anti-Semitism group, along with a third co-chair for the anti-Muslim task force group.

Harvard Law School professor Jared A. Ellias will replace Sadun as the antisemitism task force’s second co-chair alongside Harvard professor Derek J. Penslar. Garber wrote in his email that Sadun “has decided to refocus her efforts on her research, teaching, and administrative responsibilities.”

Garber also named a new co-chair of the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias task force in his message on Sunday.

Ali S.A. Asani ’77, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies, will be the group’s third co-chair. Asani joins Harvard School of Public Health professor Wafaie W. Fawzi and Harvard Kennedy School professor Asim Ijaz Khwaja — whose appointments were previously announced.

University Professor Danielle S. Allen is notably the only member to serve on both task forces. Both groups will also be advised by Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston, Associate Provost for Student Affairs Robin Glover, and a University attorney.

Yes, that would be the same DEI officer, Sherri Ann Charleston, who stands credibly accused of plagiarism. While there have been no updates into the accusations against Charleston, Harvard has to take them, and the allegations against Shirley Greene, just as seriously as they would the allegations against undergraduates, especially since the Harvard Honor Council still holds the power to suspend or expel students for academic integrity. That Charleston is being given an advisory role to these two groups seems like a bad idea. That Professor Sadun is leaving one month after being named co-chair is also not a good sign.

One gets the impression that Harvard is using both the anti-Semitism task force and the anti-Muslim task force as fig leaves against lawsuits. After all, the university is already being sued by Jewish students. In early February, the Department of Education announced a second Title VI investigation into Harvard – this time, into the treatment of Palestinian students. All of these investigations are definitely making the Harvard Corporation nervous about the longevity of the university. These task forces are meant to be a protectionary hedge against punitive damages in a lawsuit. The very existence of the task forces announce “We Care, and We’re Doing Something™” in order to head off bad press and possible legal ramifications. Which is kind of hard to do when the faculty just got caught last week passing around a highly anti-Semitic message on social media, complete with a cartoon.

Until Harvard cleans house on academic integrity, and holds students and faculty to the code of conduct that everyone apparently agreed to, then the entire university is just going to keep taking these hits directly on the chin. This college has been around for nearly 400 years, and if it doesn’t correct itself, the financial consequences could end up strangling the university to death. And honestly, the financial punishment is the only thing that will make Harvard the Corporation attempt to fix itself.

Featured image via Ingfbruno on Wikimedia Commons, cropped, Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)

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1 Comment
  • Cameron says:

    Burn it down with the administrators in the building.
    Salt the Earth.
    Leave it as a barren memorial to warn others.

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