Two members of the Harvard Corporation and four professors discussed a perceived culture of self-censorship on campus during a private dinner last Tuesday, but they did not address Claudine Gay’s future as president of the university, according to the four professors present.
The New York Times was first to report Sunday’s dinner, at which a member of the Harvard Corporation — the university’s highest governing body with the power to decide Gay’s fate as president — reportedly expressed support for Gay’s replacement.
Tracy P. Palandjian ’93, who serves on the 12-member board of trustees, reportedly told the group that “replacing the university president may not go far enough to put Harvard back on track,” according to the Times. Paul J. Finnegan ’75, the University’s immediate past treasurer, was the other Society member in attendance.
But in statements to the Crimson, all four faculty members present at the dinner — Jeannie Suk Gersen, professor at Harvard Law School, Steven A. Pinker, professor of psychology, Flynn J. Cratty, professor and former dean of the Harvard Medical School, Jeffrey S. Flier – disputed the characterization. Of the reunion.
Speculation about the Society’s internal dynamics only grew on Sunday, fueled by the suggestion that a Society member had broken ranks.
According to the Times, the dinner was evidence of “tensions” between Society members, behind closed doors, over Gay’s continued rule.
Although the Society issued a unanimous statement of support for Gay on December 12 following his disastrous congressional testimony about anti-Semitism on campus, the Board of Trustees also criticized Gay’s initial response to the war between Israel and Hamas and said he had decided to support it after “long deliberations”. – a stunning rebuke from the new president.
The company, which usually conducts its business in secret, found itself in the national spotlight as the embattled university president faced plagiarism allegations and repeated appeals upon his resignation.
At the meeting at Bar Enza, a Cambridge restaurant, Palandjian and Finnegan “gave a muted apology” and accepted some responsibility for Harvard’s current crisis, according to the Times.
But the four professors present — all of whom are leaders of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard — later said Society members had not apologized, adding that they did not recall Palandjian having expressed support for Gay’s dismissal.
Pinker said he had “no recollection of Palandjian saying she supported Gay’s resignation.”
“That would have been a bombshell that I couldn’t have forgotten,” Pinker said.
Cratty wrote in a statement that the dinner was a “very frank and friendly conversation about how Harvard can expand its commitment to civil discourse and diversity of thought.”
“We have not discussed or called for the impeachment of President Gay,” he added.
According to the Times, Palandjian also said Harvard needed a “generational change.”
Suk Gersen wrote in a statement to the Crimson that she did not “remember specifically Tracy Palandjian using the language of ‘generational’ change at Harvard.”
“But if she did, it was not about possibly replacing the president or the members of the Society, because that was not the conversation we were having,” she added.
Finnegan and Palandjian declined to comment through Harvard spokesman Jonathan L. Swain.
The Times also reported that, according to a Harvard spokesperson, one of the company’s members had “a file of news articles critical of the university.” Swain told the Crimson that although a society member brought a folder to the dinner, it contained two opinion pieces written by Pinker and another faculty member.
Swain wrote that the dinner was “a constructive and positive conversation about the importance of academic freedom, civil discourse and intellectual diversity.”
“The discussion about “generational change” occurred in this context; that solving such a vital and complex societal problem would not happen overnight, but would take time,” Swain added. “It wasn’t connected to anyone at Harvard.”
Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for The New York Times, wrote in a statement that the publication was “confident in the accuracy of our reporting and stands behind the story.”
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