The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Bill Ackman's Letter to Harvard re Widespread Antisemitism on Campus


It's worth reading the whole thing, but here is a "highlight":

Last Wednesday, I spent seven hours on campus meeting with Jewish, Israeli, and non-Jewish students and faculty at the Law School, at HBS and in a 90-minute town hall in Aldrich 112 with 230 Jewish college students (coincidentally, one for each hostage held by Hamas), research staff, and faculty from the University at large, organized by Harvard Chabad. Over the course of the day, it became clear that the situation at Harvard is dire and getting worse, much worse than I had realized.

Jewish students are being bullied, physically intimidated, spat on, and in several widely-disseminated videos of one such incident, physically assaulted. Student Slack message boards are replete with antisemitic statements, memes, and images. On-campus protesters on the Widener Library steps and elsewhere shout "Intifada! Intifada! Intifada! From the River to the Sea, Palestine Shall Be Free!" as they knowingly call for violent insurrection and use eliminationist language seeking the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

When you explained in your October 12th video address that Harvard "embraces a commitment to free expression," you sent a clear message that the eliminationist and antisemitic statements of the protesters are permissible on campus. Putting aside the legal limitations on free speech that include restrictions on fighting words and true threats, "where speakers direct a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death," if Harvard indeed had a strong track record of protecting free speech, many would have taken your support for free speech more seriously. Unfortunately, Harvard has not embraced a serious commitment to free speech, particularly so in recent years.

In The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) Annual College Free Speech Rankings, Harvard has consistently finished in the bottom quartile in each of the past four years, with its ranking deteriorating each year. On September 23rd, just two weeks prior to October 7th, FIRE announced that Harvard achieved its lowest free speech ranking ever for the 2023 academic year, ranking last out of 254 universities, with a rating of 0.00, the only university with an "abysmal" speech climate. See: the results of the survey where FIRE cites multiple examples of incidents on the Harvard campus where students and faculty were denied their First Amendment rights. Therefore, when you cite Harvard's "commitment to free expression," in supporting the protesters, it rings false and hypocritical to the university at large and the Jewish community in particular.

Many Jewish students have also recently become afraid to express their concerns. Many have also felt the need to remove their mezuzahs, yarmulkes, Stars of David, and other overt evidence of their religion and heritage on campus and in Cambridge to avoid being exposed to discrimination, bullying or worse.

As for me,