On January 5, The Nation reported that Ken Roth, who headed Human Rights Watch for over two decades, had been rejected for a resident fellowship at the Kennedy School’s Carr Center on Human Rights.
The reason: Human Rights Watch—and Roth—had an “anti-Israel bias.”
Or at least that’s what the Kennedy School’s dean, economist Doug Elmendorf, told stunned Carr Center faculty when they asked why he was vetoing their choice, rather than routinely approving it as he had always done in the past. (Roth had been recruited by the Carr Center.)
Michael Massing’s rigorous reporting in The Nation raised important questions about Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom, the behind-the-scenes power of its donors, the meaning of diversity, the chilling effect on junior faculty, and American (and American Jewish) feelings about Israel—which these days means an ever more right-wing government. The article was an indictment of a powerful institution and its key donors.
The ACLU, PEN America, Americans for Peace Now—and, unexpectedly, former Harvard president Larry Summers—swiftly condemned the Kennedy School’s action and called for its reversal. The Boston Globe editorial board excoriated Harvard, and the story was picked up by a growing number of media outlets in the US and worldwide—NPR, the AP, The Guardian, Haaretz, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Jerusalem Post, Al Jazeera, among them. (Israeli papers made it front-page news.) The article went viral on social media, and 19 Harvard student groups condemned Elmendorf’s decision and called for his resignation.
Elmendorf maintained his silence. And then, on January 19, The New York Times reported that the Kennedy School and Elmendorf reversed course. In an e-mail to the Kennedy School community, Elmendorf said his decision had been an “error” and that the school would be extending an invitation to Roth, who noted that “penalizing people for criticizing Israel is hardly limited to me.” The Nation commends Harvard’s decision and celebrates the power of independent accountability journalism. Read the original report here.