Harvard staff defend embattled head Claudine Gay amid anti-Semitism row

Petition warns that bowing to pressure to fire Gay would be ‘at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom’.

Harvard President Claudine Gay has been criticised over her testimony to a congressional hearing on rising anti-Semitism on university campuses [Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo]

Hundreds of faculty at Harvard University have signed a petition backing the school’s president following a backlash over her appearance at a congressional hearing on rising anti-Semitism in the United States.

The petition warns that bowing to political pressure to fire Harvard President Claudine Gay would be “at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom” and calls on administrators to “defend the independence of the university”.

“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 petition signed by more than 500 professors says.

The petition, which was first reported by The Boston Globe, was delivered on Sunday to the 13-member Harvard Corporation, which is empowered to remove Gay.

Gay has faced a firestorm of criticism since she and two other university heads repeatedly failed to give a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to the question of whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate university policy.

During their appearance before a US House of Representatives committee hearing on anti-Semitism on campuses last week, Gay and the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that whether such calls breached bullying and harassment policies would depend on the context.

Gay on Friday apologised for getting caught up in “an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures” and not more clearly stating that calls for violence against Jews have no place on campus.

University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill stepped down from her role on Saturday after earlier releasing a video expressing regret over her testimony.

More than 70 US lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have added their names to a letter demanding the removal of the three university presidents.

US universities have faced criticism for not doing enough to protect Jewish students amid growing backlash to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Law enforcement officials and advocacy groups in the US have reported a rise in hate crimes against both Jews and Muslims since Hamas’ October 7 attacks on southern Israeli communities and Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and invasion of Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies