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‘Endangered’: Drew Faust Passionately Defends Higher Education at Harvard PBK Ceremony

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Former University President Drew Gilpin Faust offered an impassioned defense of higher education and denounced politicians for “denigrating and destroying” the academy during her keynote address to Phi Beta Kappa honorees on Tuesday.

Faust said that universities must “now more than ever to be their best selves” while defending themselves from “attacks that are uninformed, undeserved or rankly partisan.”

“American higher education is endangered,” she said. “Universities have rightly been reminded of the imperative to live up to their own values.”

Faust also directly referenced the campaign to oust former Harvard President Claudine Gay after she faced intense criticism over her initial response to campus antisemitism and allegations of plagiarism in her academic work.

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“We should not be permitting, and certainly not celebrating a governor or a legislature or a member of Congress who is designing courses or degree requirements, hiring faculty, or proudly claiming responsibility for firing university presidents,” Faust said.

Since December, Harvard has been the subject of an investigation into campus antisemitism by the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce. As part of its probe, the committee has gone to unprecedented lengths, including by issuing subpoenas to interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 and Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81.

The committee previously called Gay to testify about campus antisemitism on Dec. 5. The congressional hearing marked the beginning of the end of Gay’s presidency.

Faust focused her remarks on the increasing politicization of higher education and pointedly condemned politicians she described as bent on undermining institutions of American higher education.

“The upheavals of this past academic year arising from the tragic situation in the Middle East have provided the occasion for those already hostile to the culture of American higher education to escalate their criticisms,” Faust said.

Faust also argued that universities have a responsibility to “resist being portrayed in this partian light” by prioritizing free speech and open inquiry on campus.

“The essence of a university requires it to stand above the political fray, to uphold the value of rational argument and exchange as the pathway to finding and refining the best ideas,” she said.

Many affiliates have pushed for the University to adopt a policy of institutional neutrality following the University’s widely-criticized response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Garber convened two working groups in April to issue recommendations on institutional neutrality and civil discourse on campus.

Faust told graduating PBK honorees that as the “intellectually most distinguished” of their class, they had a responsibility as graduates to defend education and acknowledge “both the ‘dangers’ and the ‘duties’ that lie ahead.”

“We must be champions of the promise and purposes of higher education — of the ‘rule of truth’ that it stands for both inside and outside these gates,” Faust said.

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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