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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, May 19, 2024

Harvard’s errors leave an uncertain future

Controversies over antisemitism and academic dishonesty continue to threaten Harvard’s reputation as a leading member of the Ivy League.

My grandfather was a proud alumnus of Harvard University. Upon graduating, he went to medical school and subsequently entered military service in World War II, serving in India as a captain in the Medical Corps. He went on to have a distinguished career in medicine and a lengthy retirement in South Florida before passing away in January 2020 at the age of 102. My grandfather was a constant mentor: He inspired me to pursue classics in college and instilled in me core values that I will hold for the rest of my life. 

Since his passing, his alma mater has deteriorated into an unrecognizable institution marred by seemingly endless controversy. Possibly as a result, Harvard — a school with incredible prestige — saw a 5% drop in applications for the Class of 2028. I am in no way surprised by this number, and frankly, I’m shocked it’s not higher. This news should remind us yet again of Harvard’s stunning downfall and its failure to make amends for past mistakes.

Harvard first slipped when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, after which Claudine Gay, Harvard’s embattled former president, refused to properly condemn rising antisemitism while testifying on Capitol Hill. Her appalling testimony reflected poorly on her judgment and unveiled a larger free speech double standard. As first-year Charlie Covit wrote in an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal: “At a college whose Title IX training warns students that ‘sizeism’ can perpetuate ‘violence’ but where calls for a ‘global intifada’ are permissible, something has gone seriously awry.” 

Though antisemitism had been a problem long before Oct. 7, the Anti-Defamation League reported a national uptick in antisemitic incidents following the Hamas attacks. Harvard doctoral student J.J. Kimhe claimed the Harvard administration let numerous immoral comments slide including cheering Hamas’ atrocities and failing to adequately condemn Hamas. According to an article published in the Atlantic by Dara Horn,  some Harvard faculty members utilized Harvard-issued class lists to distribute information concerning events planned by pro-Palestine groups. The author claimed one professor “canceled class so students could attend an anti-Israel rally.” Actions like these predated Oct. 7. Harvard’s reluctance to appropriately denounce antisemitism on its campus — whether student or faculty-led — despite the brutality of Hamas demonstrates a larger dilemma plaguing the school. 

Harvard’s metamorphosis from Ivy to “Poison Ivy” was augmented by an onslaught of plagiarism accusations against Gay. By December, Gay had been hit with almost 50 allegations of plagiarism. At the same time, Harvard itself came under fire for hiring Gay without properly vetting her academic record. The Washington Post reported that 47 plagiarism allegations were made against Gay, with an independent body appointed by Harvard later finding that at least nine instances “paraphrased or reproduced the language of others without quotation marks and without sufficient and clear crediting of sources.” Amidst the controversy, Gay resigned as president, marking the end of the shortest term by any Harvard president. Two questions arise from these revelations: First, how does Claudine Gay maintain that she is an accomplished academic? Her record will forever be tainted, and her work will likely be subjected to endless scrutiny. Second, when did Harvard’s hiring standards vanish? One would think that employment at a renowned institution like Havard would be predicated on high academic standing and a verified record. If Harvard expects academic honesty from its applicant pool, surely it would expect the same from its faculty. 

One might hope that the 5% drop in applications to Harvard this year would teach the school a valuable lesson about ethics and standards. But from what I have seen, Harvard has yet to make a concerted effort to reform and rebuild. Though a litany of scandals effectively ousted Gay, she did not take all of Harvard’s problems with her. The moral deficiencies present within Harvard have wreaked havoc on the institution's favorability as evidenced by the recent application cycle. If Harvard’s leadership wants to get back on track, they should hire a president based on merit and not allegedly pander to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion characteristics. Additionally,  they would ensure that antisemitism has no place at Harvard and take appropriate action should antisemitic behavior occur. These two steps are just the beginning but would certainly help Harvard in the long run.

Though I might come off as frustrated towards one of America’s most preeminent academic institutions, I am in fact quite sad. I have always been proud that my grandfather attended Harvard. He received a world-class education that propelled him to a rewarding career. Nearly 27,000 Harvard students, alums, faculty members and staff members selflessly elected to serve their country in World War II. Following Pearl Harbor, people united around President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his idea for the U.S. to be the “great arsenal of democracy.” 

Unfortunately, the Harvard that he knew is long gone. Instead of fostering a community centered on moral values, Harvard has made antisemitism and academic misconduct mainstream. It teaches a class predicated on Israel being a “settler-colonialist state” while its professor claims that the class is not pushing an agenda. It hosts panels and events about the suffering of innocent Palestinians with almost no mention of Hamas. Jewish students at Harvard should not have to worry about being spat on or shouted at by aggressive, uninformed students. They should be able to wear Hebrew t-shirts and discuss friends and family in Israel. This starts with appropriately enforcing the rules. 

To many, Harvard has lost its prestige and reputation. It will take considerable effort and a long time for Harvard to get back in everyone’s good graces. I remain uncertain if the Harvard of the past will ever return.