Harvard and I

A few people have asked me just what connection I’ve had to Harvard, since I have many affiliations, so I thought I’d set the record straight.

I was a Senior Fellow at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Weatherhead Center, from 2007 through 2009. I founded and co-convened a group weblog, Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH), which I edited intensively (and with minimal controversy) for two years. In mid-2009, the Olin Institute folded, and in December, we put the website to sleep, as I had assumed another weighty commitment. I promised to explore options for handing off the site, and accepted a lesser affiliation, that of Visiting Scholar—a status reserved for persons who hold their primary appointments elsewhere. I spent my last period in residence at Harvard in November, and I cleared out my office when I left.

So this controversy erupted during my exit from Harvard, and it seems to me unfair that my critics have burdened the Weatherhead Center with responsibility for opinions I’ve expressed since I left, far away from Cambridge. Even so, defending my affiliation is a stand the Weatherhead Center chose to take, and it did so without consulting me—not only or even primarily on my behalf, I presume, but on behalf of the hundreds of Center affiliates whose views might, at some moment, deviate from what someone thinks is correct. And while the affiliation no longer serves my practical purposes (and I would feel a lot freer to reply to my critics without it), resigning it would damage the cause of academic freedom.

I welcome criticism of my ideas. I despise criticism of the principles of academic freedom on which Harvard rests.

Update, 2018: Read “A Controversy at Harvard,” my retrospective on this affair.

WCFIA at Harvard: accusations are baseless

The following statement has been issued by the directors of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) at Harvard:

Over the past several days, we have heard from several members of the public, and of the Harvard community, who object to the statements of Martin Kramer at a recent conference. Kramer is a Visiting Scholar at the National Security Studies Program, which is a program of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA). (Kramer is not, contrary to the understanding of some of our correspondents, an employee of the Center or of Harvard University.) Many of those who have written us have called upon the Center to dissociate itself from Kramer’s remarks, or to end his affiliation with the Center.

The WCFIA has many hundreds of affiliates: faculty members, graduate students, undergraduates, post-docs, visiting scholars and others. They represent the widest possible range of opinion on almost every subject. The Center takes no position on any issue of scholarship or public policy, nor does it attempt to monitor or control the activities of its affiliates.

Accusations have been made that Martin Kramer’s statements are genocidal. These accusations are baseless. Kramer’s statements, available at http://www.martinkramer.org/sandbox/2010/02/superfluous-young-men/, express dismay with the policy of agencies that provide aid to Palestinian refugees, and that tie aid entitlements to the size of refugee families. Kramer argues that this policy encourages population growth among refugee communities. While these views may be controversial, there is no way they can be regarded as genocidal.

Those who have called upon the Weatherhead Center to dissociate itself from Kramer’s views, or to end Kramer’s affiliation with the Center, appear not to understand the role of controversy in an academic setting. It would be inappropriate for the Weatherhead Center to pass judgement on the personal political views of any of its affiliates, or to make affiliation contingent upon some political criterion. Exception may be made for statements that go beyond the boundaries of protected speech, but there is no sense in which Kramer’s remarks could be considered to fall into this category. The Weatherhead Center’s activities are based upon a firm belief that scholars must be free to state their views, and rejects any attempts to restrict this fundamental academic freedom.

Beth Simmons, Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (on leave 2009-2010)

Jeffry Frieden, Acting Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (Fall 2009)

James Robinson, Acting Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (Spring 2010)

Update, 2018: Read “A Controversy at Harvard,” my retrospective on this affair.