Harvard petition demands ‘accountability’ before Trump officials are invited to campus

Pedestrians crossed the Harvard University campus.
Pedestrians crossed the Harvard University campus.Josh Reynolds/for the Boston Globe/file

A petition circulating at Harvard University is drawing the ire of some allies of President Donald Trump for demanding that the school require “accountability” for members of his administration before they are allowed to speak or teach on the campus.

The open letter from Harvard affiliates cites Trump's refusal to concede the presidential election and attempts by some members of his administration to baselessly claim widespread voter fraud. Inviting those Trump allies to Harvard would legitimize subverting democratic norms, warn the signatories, whose names are not visible on the petition.

"That is why today we are asking you to set up a system of accountability for high-level political appointees and Trump administration consultants before they are invited as fellows or to teach or speak on campus," the letter says. "These accountability guidelines should be publicly shared with students by the end of the calendar year."


The petitioners also call on the university to "fully vet speakers for their role in undermining" democracy and either "boldly confront" them for it or decline to invite them to the school at all.

It was unclear who created the open letter or how many people have signed it.

Carter Estes, a member of the Harvard Kennedy School's student government, said the petition originated in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and originally called for an outright ban on Trump appointees before the language was toned down.

The student government of each of Harvard's schools is considering the petition, Estes said. He said the Kennedy School's student government voted to reject the open letter and write its own petition supporting less partisan guidelines for speakers at the university.

University spokesman Jason Newton said the school was aware of the open letter but declined to comment further.

The letter re-inflamed a volatile public debate about whether and where to draw boundaries around controversial public figures giving talks on college campuses. High-profile protests over provocative speakers, including former Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos and commentator Ann Coulter, have prompted conservatives to cry censorship, while liberals argue that some views do not deserve a distinguished platform.


Alan Dershowitz, a member of Trump's legal team during his impeachment proceedings, wondered aloud whether he would be banned from speaking at Harvard, despite teaching in the university's law school for 50 years.

In an interview, he promised to represent pro bono any Trump administration officials Harvard turns away after students invite them to speak. Dershowitz also vowed to seek an invitation to talk on campus about Trump's accomplishments to see how the university handles the challenge.

"It's the worst kind of thought control," Dershowitz said of the petition.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, a Harvard Law School graduate, called for university administrators to reject the letter. She said she and other members of the Trump administration would gladly return to campus and dare the school to kick them out.

"Our academic communities should be bastions of free speech and the countering and jousting of ideas, not the censorship of a viewpoint that you feel is unpalatable," she said Wednesday in an interview with Fox Business.

Harvard has at times been a focal point in the culture war over who should be allowed on college campuses and in what positions. Last year, the university removed law professor Ronald Sullivan from his position as dean of an undergraduate house after students objected to his representation of film mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has since been convicted of sexual assault.


The university again made news weeks later when it rescinded the admission of Kyle Kashuv, who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and became a conservative school-safety activist, over racist comments he made when he was 16.