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Colleges are under pressure to hold accountable those who sought to overturn election, attended Capitol riot

Representative Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., spoke at the US Capitol on Wednesday.Associated Press

Harvard University’s Kennedy School ousted US Representative Elise Stefanik from the school’s Institute of Politics advisory board Tuesday because of the New York Republican’s role in trying to overturn the election results even after a mob attacked the Capitol.

At New England Law, Scott Brown, the new dean and until recently President Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand, is facing pressure to discipline a student who attended last week’s riot and posted video on his Facebook page of an angry crowd confronting officers at a barricade in front of the Capitol.

Across the country, college administrators are being called upon to hold accountable students, faculty, and leaders who participated in last Wednesday’s violence and in efforts to undercut the election process.


“What our country is facing is a group of politicians trying to justify, or sweep under the rug, what happened in our country last week,” said Ryan Enos, a government professor at Harvard, who along with 1,000 alumni, students, and staff signed a petition this past week calling for Stefanik’s removal. “We can’t just move on.”

Harvard Kennedy dean Doug Elmendorf said the move came after several days of discussions and an initial request to Stefanik that she step down. But Elmendorf said Stefanik refused, and he was forced to remove her from the 13-member committee that includes former Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, and David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. Committee members advise the institute’s director and help guide the program’s agenda.

Stefanik, a Harvard graduate, undermined the election process by asserting that there was voter fraud without any evidence, Elmendorf said in his announcement.

“My request was not about political parties, political ideology, or her choice of candidate for president,” Elmendorf said. “These assertions and statements do not reflect policy disagreements but bear on the foundations of the electoral process through which this country’s leaders are chosen.”


On Twitter, Stefanik blasted Harvard for its decision to “cower and cave to the woke Left.”

“The Ivory Tower’s march toward a monoculture of like-minded, intolerant liberal views demonstrates the sneering disdain for everyday Americans and will instill a culture of fear for students who will understand that a conservative viewpoint will not be tolerated and will be silenced,” Stefanik said.

At some colleges, students or staff who took part in the storming of the Capitol could also face consequences.

New England Law plans to hire an outside law firm to review the participation of anyone from its community in Wednesday’s mob unrest at the Capitol and determine whether they violated the school’s conduct code, said Jennifer Kelly, a spokeswoman at the Boston school.

“The events of last week were horrifying and unconscionable,” Kelly said in statement. “Five people lost their lives, and all who were responsible for contributing to the violence must be held to account.”

The school has received complaints about student Samson Racioppi’s presence at the Capitol on Wednesday. Racioppi is an organizer with the group “Super Happy Fun America,” which organized the Straight Pride Parade in Boston in 2019 and sent a group of local pro-Trump supporters to the Capitol last week.

Racioppi did not respond to a request for comment. Photos and a video he posted showed him outside the Capitol with a crowd yelling at police in front of a barricade and what looks like an officer spraying an aerosol irritant into the crowd. The video was removed Monday afternoon.


On his Facebook page, Racioppi wrote, “So … Why is occupying the Capitol bad? I condemn the violence and destruction of course but … People had a legitimate grievance and they took it to the actor. You may not view their grievances as legitimate, but that’s not the point. While it may be illegal, was it such a bad thing for them to do?”

Kelly declined to comment on specific student behavior. But she said Brown, who became dean of the law school last Monday after leaving his post as ambassador, is responding directly to students and alumni who have brought forward complaints.

Last week’s attack on the Capitol has prompted colleges to also consider more broadly how welcoming they will be to Trump administration officials looking for academic jobs at the end of this presidency, said Enos, the Harvard professor.

At the end of any presidential term, political insiders usually find a landing spot teaching college courses of accepting prestigious fellowships at campuses. But colleges now have to grapple with whether hiring these insiders makes the institution complicit in the insurrection and anti-democratic actions, Enos said.

Colleges must represent diverse political views and protect academic freedom, but if last week’s violence goes unanswered, it is likely to spur further threats to democracy, he said.

“Harvard has a duty to represent people from the political spectrum,” he said. “But there has to be bright line, violence falls on one side of that bright line.”


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at Follow her @fernandesglobe.