Harvard University’s interim president, Alan Garber, is stepping up scrutiny of hateful behavior after his predecessor resigned amid questions around how she addressed antisemitism on campus.

The school formed two new presidential task forces, one on antisemitism and the other on Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias, Garber said in a statement Friday. The panels will function separately and complete their work as soon as feasible, he said. He took the reins Jan. 2 when Claudine Gay stepped down.

The task forces will attempt to shed light on rising tensions on campus in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The school was thrust into the spotlight after Gay’s initially tepid response when more than 30 student groups signed a petition blaming the violence solely on the Jewish state. 

The U.S. Education Department, meanwhile, has opened its own probe of discrimination against Jews and Muslims at Harvard and more than two dozen other colleges.

“Reports of antisemitic and Islamophobic acts on our campus have grown, and the sense of belonging among these groups has been undermined,” Garber said. “We need to understand why and how that is happening — and what more we might do to prevent it.”

Harvard has been under intense pressure from lawmakers, alumni and major donors over how it’s handled antisemitism. That’s the subject of two investigations in the U.S. House of Representatives, one by the Education and the Workforce Committee and the other by the Ways and Means Committee. In a lawsuit filed in federal court last week, Jewish students argued that Harvard has failed to punish rising antisemitism on campus.

Gay, who was also under pressure from allegations of plagiarism, had formed an advisory group on antisemitism. One of the members, Rabbi David Wolpe, resigned days after her testimony last month before the House education committee. She and the leaders of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology gave widely criticized testimony in which they declined to say that calling for genocide against Jews was a violation of university policies.

Since then, Gay and her counterpart at Penn have resigned. Penn’s board chair also stepped down, while Penny Pritzker is still leading Harvard Corp., the school’s top governing council. 

Garber said the Harvard tasks forces will work on identifying the root causes of bias-based behaviors on campus and recommending how to combat them and mitigate their impact. 

An economist and physician, Garber has been Harvard’s provost since 2011. He studies methods for improving health-care productivity and health-care financing. He’s a graduate of Harvard College and earned a Ph.D in Economics from the university as well as a medical degree from Stanford University. 


©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.