Thursday, April 25

House Committee Will Subpoena Harvard for Documents Relating to Antisemitism

A congressional committee said Friday that it would serve subpoenas on Harvard University in a hunt for documentation of whether the university tolerated antisemitism on its campus.

The move is part of an expanding Republican effort to investigate elite universities for their response to pro-Palestinian student demonstrations, especially after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel. The committee has also started investigations into Columbia, M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania. But Harvard is the first to receive subpoenas.

The Israel-Hamas war has exposed deep political divisions among Harvard students, faculty members and alumni, which contributed to the resignation last month of Claudine Gay, the university’s first Black president.

Harvard, like many other universities, has said it must protect Jewish students while also protecting free speech, but critics have said that university officials have allowed demonstrations to veer into antisemitism.

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce said the subpoenas would go to Harvard’s interim president, Alan Garber; the head of its governing corporation, Penny Pritzker; and N.P. Narvekar, the chief executive officer of its management company, which handles the university’s endowment.

The subpoenas did not come as a surprise, since in the last few days, the committee had reprimanded Harvard for withholding or heavily redacting documents and warned that it would take legal action.

“Harvard’s continued failure to satisfy the committee’s requests is unacceptable,” Representative Virginia Foxx said in a statement on Friday. “I will not tolerate delay and defiance of our investigation while Harvard’s Jewish students continue to endure the firestorm of antisemitism that has engulfed its campus.”

The university denied that it was withholding information.

“Harvard has provided fulsome and good faith responses across 10 submissions totaling more than 3,500 pages that directly address key areas of inquiry put forward by the committee,” the university said in a statement on Friday. “While subpoenas were unwarranted, Harvard remains committed to cooperating with the committee and will continue to provide additional materials, while protecting the legitimate privacy, safety and security concerns of our community.”

In its requests for documents, the committee said there was evidence that antisemitism had been “pervasive” at Harvard long before the Oct. 7 attack.

But Randall Kennedy, a law professor at Harvard, said it was hard for him to accept the premise that the investigation was all about antisemitism.

“I think it’s obvious that this is not an investigation in good faith,” he said. “The people who are running the show obviously harbor an animus against elite liberal universities, mainly in the northeast, and this is a continuation of their campaign.”

The subpoena directed to Ms. Pritzker and Dr. Garber asked for “all Harvard Corporation meeting minutes and/or summaries, whether formal or informal, since Jan. 1, 2021,” among a wide range of other documents.

As head of Harvard’s corporation, Ms. Pritzker, a businesswoman and philanthropist, was a leading backer of Dr. Gay’s presidency. The corporation repeatedly expressed its support for Dr. Gay, even when accepting her resignation on Jan. 2.

Mr. Narvekar, of Harvard’s management company, appears to have been targeted for his role in communicating with big donors during the turmoil from Oct. 7 to Jan. 2, when they may have threatened to withdraw over accusations of antisemitism.

The subpoenas also ask for information about disciplinary processes “related to conduct involving Jews, Israelis, Israel, Zionists, or Zionism since Jan. 1, 2021.”

The subpoenas set a deadline of March 4 for Harvard to produce the documents.

This would be the first time that the committee, founded in 1867, has issued a subpoena to a university, a spokesman for the committee said.

“I think this is just the beginning of legislative inquiries into internal behavior of higher education institutions,” said Peter Lake, a professor of law at Stetson University in Florida, and director of its Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy.

“Obviously,” he added, “Harvard is a prominent figure to investigate.”

The committee said it could refer any findings to the Department of Education, which has some oversight powers. And Ms. Foxx has said that universities that tolerate antisemitism should not receive federal funding.

Mr. Lake said that Congress could exercise some authority over universities. “The real threat is potential legislation such as taxing endowments, limiting federal lending, setting performance metrics for funding,” he said. “And the committee can influence the court of public opinion as well, making life very difficult for a college.”