Harvard president wouldn’t have protected ‘free speech’ of students if they’d claimed ‘George Floyd had it coming’

Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman told Harvard President Claudine Gay that he has “lost confidence” in her and his alma mater over the university’s permissive attitude toward blatant antisemitism in the wake of Hamas’s barbaric attack on Israel.

In a letter dated November 4th and posted on X, Ackman detailed the “dire” situation Jewish students are facing on the elite campus and asked how the university would have responded if students had chanted, “George Floyd had it coming” in 2020.

“I am writing this letter to you regretfully,” he began. “Never did I think I would have to write a letter to the president of my alma mater about the impact of her actions and inactions on the health and safety of its student body in order to help catalyze necessary change.”

“For the past four weeks since the horrors of October 7th, I have been in dialogue with members of the corporation board, other alumni, as well as students and faculty sharing and comparing our concerns about the growing number of antisemitic incidents on campus, as we wait for you and the University to act,” he continued. “Four weeks after the barbaric terrorist acts of October 7th, I have lost confidence that you and the University will do what is required.”

Ackman wrote that he had spent seven hours on the campus last week, meeting with “Jewish, Israeli, and non-Jewish students and faculty.”

“Over the course of the day, it became clear that the situation at Harvard is dire and getting worse,” he stated, “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,” he explained. “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.”

As BizPac Review reported, after more than 30 Harvard student organizations issued a joint letter in support of Palestine, Ackman called on the university to “release a list of the members of each of the Harvard organizations that have issued the letter assigning sole responsibility for Hamas’ heinous acts to Israel, so as to ensure that none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.”

On October 12, Gay released a video statement in which he stressed that Harvard “embraces a commitment to free expression.”

In doing so, Ackman told the president, “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,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, Harvard has not embraced a serious commitment to free speech, particularly so in recent years.”

He noted that “just two weeks prior to October 7th, FIRE [The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression] 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.”

“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,” Ackman wrote.

He continued:

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.

I am incredibly saddened to say that Harvard has also become a place where Jewish students are concerned about the threat of physical violence (which likely has a corresponding impact on their mental health) while among other insults, they are forced to sit next to classmates who openly and comfortably post, under their actual names, antisemitic statements and imagery on the student-wide Slack message system with no consequences for their actions. And it is not just the Jewish students and faculty that are up in arms.

While on campus, I heard a constant refrain from non-Jewish members of the Harvard community: Why are Claudine and the administration doing nothing about this?

Ackman then took aim at Harvard’s Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (OEDIB) DEI statement: “We actively seek and welcome people of color, women, persons with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQIA, and those who are at the intersections of these identities, from across the spectrum of disciplines and methods to join us.”

“In other words, Jews and others who are not on the above list are not welcome to join,” he wrote. “When antisemitism is widely prevalent on campus, and the DEI office – which ‘views diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging as the pathway to achieving inclusive excellence and fostering a campus culture where everyone can thrive’ – does not welcome Jewish students, we have a serious problem.”

He posed the rhetorical question: “What would Claudine do if 34 Harvard student organizations put out a statement on May 25th, 2020 that ‘George Floyd had it coming’?”

Or, “How would you respond to a Harvard white supremacist protest where students shouted ‘Tulsa! Tulsa! Tulsa! From the Atlantic to the Pacific, America should be free of Black people.'”

“Would Harvard even permit the above demonstrations to take place on campus?” Ackman asked.

“Despite the outburst of antisemitic activities and protests on campus, the first initiative that Harvard took to protect students was the establishment on October 24th of a task force to ‘support students experiencing doxxing, harassment, and online security issues following backlash against students allegedly affiliated with a statement that held Israel “entirely responsible” for violence in the Israel-Hamas conflict,'” he wrote. “The creation of this task force sent a very strong message that the University was not just ignoring the antisemitic incidents and threats to Jewish student safety on campus, but rather it was taking sides in the conflict by only supporting students who held Israel responsible for Hamas’ vile acts.”

Ackman laid out several steps Gay could take to “Solve the Problem.”

“Successfully addressing antisemitism at Harvard and creating an environment with true freedom of expression will become a critically important part of your legacy as the Harvard community works together to address these challenges at a difficult time in world history,” Ackman told Gay. “I would be delighted to help in any way that I can to enable you to succeed in this mission and as Harvard’s president.”

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