May 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Harvard threatens "involuntary leave" for pro-Palestinian student protesters

A tent outdoors is seen with a sign that reads "there are no universities left in Gaza."

Pro-Palestinian tents and signs fill Harvard Yard on May 5. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/Getty Images

Harvard University interim president Alan Garber threatened student protesters with "involuntary leave" from the school Monday if they don't clear out an encampment.

Why it matters: Crackdowns on pro-Palestinian protesters at universities across the country have led to suspensions, expulsions, arrests and canceled commencements since encampments and sit-ins expanded last month.

  • The university called for an end to protesters' encampment at Harvard Yard as students move out of their dorms and the school prepares for graduation, which is scheduled for May 21 in the encampment area.
  • "Those who participate in or perpetuate its continuation will be referred for involuntary leave from their schools," interim president Alan Garber said in the statement.
  • The right to free speech, including protest and dissent "is not unlimited," Garber said.

State of play: Students placed on involuntary leave won't be able to take exams or reside on Harvard's campus.

  • They must leave campus until they are reinstated, Garber said.

What they're saying: Hundreds of students are at risk of suspension, per student coalition Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine.

  • "Some are now at risk of deportation, eviction and having their degrees withheld," the coalition said.
  • Protesters at Harvard have called on the university to disclose and divest any investments in Israel.

Flashback: Former Harvard president Claudine Gay resigned in January following her congressional testimony on antisemitism at the Ivy League school.

  • The recent escalation of protests across campuses came shortly after Columbia president Minouche Shafik testified before the same House committee as Gay.

Zoom out: More than 2,400 people have been arrested at pro-Palestinian protests on at least 51 college campuses in the U.S. in recent weeks.

  • Harvard administration, unlike other schools, did not ask law enforcement to remove protesters on its campus, the Harvard Crimson previously reported.
  • Students last week began to receive disciplinary notices, and an administrative board was set to determine disciplinary action.
  • "Further violations and continued escalation will result in increasingly severe sanctions," Garber said on Monday.

Go deeper: Columbia cancels commencement amid campus protests

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