Harvard and its ‘institutional response’

Harvard yesterday issued a statement about its “Institutional Voice.” The statement reported the conclusions of a working group that was convened in the wake of October 7th and the ensuing war, to consider how the university should respond to public issues. I am the Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies, Emeritus, at Harvard. When the statement was sent to me, I replied as follows:

“Thank you for your communication and the links therein. I have read them.
I do not find the word ‘anti-Semitism’ anywhere. It is no use retreating behind a statement that an institution of higher learning is unfit to pass judgment on public issues. It is disingenuous. You would not do this were there a KKK encampment in Harvard Yard attacking Black students and faculty and calling for their death.

“Jew haters on campus replaced the American flag with the Palestinian flag behind the statue of John Harvard. It might as well have been a swastika: they weren’t chanting about a two-state solution or peace. They were supporting the murder of Jews and calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. But you know all this.

“John Harvard was a clergyman. He understood that learning goes hand in hand with morality. Those who abandon the good of the intellect, wrote Dante, are the damned.

“What metaphor should one employ? A ship of fools? A craft drifting rudderless? Poor Harry Widener’s Titanic? A raft about to tip over a waterfall? You write in smug arrogance that the world is watching Harvard. It is, but its admiration has changed to the Elizabethan sense of the word — incredulous fascination with somebody gone bad or mad.

“I had occasion the other day to call IT about a computer issue. The student who assisted me was a cheerful, kind Israeli. We conversed briefly in Hebrew. When I asked him what things were like, he told me, ‘Oh, Israelis and Jews have to avoid the Yard. But this, too, will pass, as they say.’

“Fresno, California, where I live in retirement, is not too far from two great national parks, Yosemite and Sequoia. I told him to pass on to Israeli and Jewish colleagues that he and they are cordially invited to dinner at my humble home when they’re passing through. The spirits of Dante and John Harvard will join us at the table. Amor omnia vincit.”

About the Author
Born New York City to Sephardic Mom and Ashkenazic Dad, educated at Bronx Science HS, Columbia, Oxford, SOAS (Univ. of London), professor of ancient Iranian at Columbia, of Armenian at Harvard, lectured on Jewish studies where now live in retirement: Fresno, California. Published many books & scholarly articles. Belong to Chabad.
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