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Harvard’s antisemitism and anti-Muslim task forces urge the university to act soon

CNN  —  Two presidential task forces formed to recommend how Harvard can combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian activity on campus have spoken: Harvard needs to act now. The two groups issued preliminary reports on Wednesday aimed at restoring the university’s trust with students, faculty and the broader community. The recommendations come after a string of disruptive and, at times, violent campus protests. And they follow a rise in hateful speech and activity against Jews, Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs after Hamas’ deadly October 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza that has killed tens of thousands. After 85 listening sessions that included close to 900 members of the Harvard community, the task forces said Harvard’s students and faculty feel the university has fallen short of its stated values, particularly respecting differences and diversity, in its response to the protests and upheaval on campus. “The situation over the past year has been quite grave, and unless we take significant steps forward by the beginning of the coming academic year, we could be in a position similar to last year, which we want to prevent,” said Derek Penslar, a Jewish history professor and co-chair of Harvard’s task force on combating antisemitism. Harvard needs to do more work to promote diversity education and promote multiple perspectives on campus, the task force chairs recommended. “Intentional engagement with diversity is a very important skill that all our students should have, regardless of what school they attend,” said Ali Asani, a Middle Eastern studies professor and co-chair of the task force on combating anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, and anti-Palestinian bias. “Not having those skills and the tools to engage has serious consequences for our world as it leads to polarization.” The anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias task force broadly recommended promoting safety, representation, freedom of expression, transparency and relationships among affinity groups among other areas. The antisemitism task force sought to get Harvard to clarify its values, act against discrimination and hate, improve the university’s disciplinary process, promote dialogue and training on the topic and support Jewish life on campus. Among the suggestions, the task forces said Harvard should publicly condemn all forms of discrimination and stay out of topics that don’t concern the university. Harvard last month said it will no longer weigh in on public matters that don’t impact the Ivy League school’s core function. The groups said Harvard should review its Middle East academic program, create a prayer space for Muslims, work to prevent doxxing and add combatting antisemitism to the purview of the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office. Of particular concern for the task force on antisemitism was the sentiment that complaints about anti-Jewish hate and activity on campus were going unheard. The group said that the university failed to follow up on many complaints, and the consequences for some of those actions was insufficient. Alan Garber, Harvard’s interim president, said he appreciated the recommendations and the task forces’ candor. “The work ahead of us will require a concerted effort,” Garber said. “We will commence detailed review and implementation of the shorter-term recommendations over the summer. Those that are longer-term will be developed, refined, and implemented in due course.” Harvard has been under particular scrutiny for its response to rising incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus. The Anti-Defamation League gave Harvard a failing grade on antisemitism in a recent report. And the House Education Committee lambasted the university for its response to a subpoena seeking information on how it handled campus protests. Former Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned earlier this year following her testimony to the House committee, and an ensuing plagiarism scandal.