Harvard University threatens student protesters with ‘involuntary leave’

Harvard University administrators on Monday told demonstrators camped out on parts of the campus lawn that they will face “involuntary leave” from their schools if they do not leave the encampment, meaning they will be barred from being on campus until reinstated.

“The continuation of the encampment presents a significant risk to the education environment of the University,” Harvard’s interim president Alan Garber wrote in a statement Monday. “Those who participate in or perpetuate its continuation will be referred for involuntary leave from their schools.”

Students placed on involuntary leave risk the ability to sit for their exams and are not allowed to from stay in Harvard housing or remain on campus, Garber said.

Monday marked the 12th consecutive day protestors have remained at an encampment in Harvard Yard to protest Israel’s war with Palestinian militant group Hamas, per university officials. The encampment, which has featured several students sleeping overnight, is one of a series of demonstrations that have roiled college campuses across the country for nearly three weeks.

Hundreds of students and faculty calling on their schools and the U.S. to sever ties with Israel have been arrested at these demonstrations, after administrators authorized local and state police forces to break up encampments.

The demonstrations, especially those in the form of encampments or building takeovers, have raised questions over whether they are legally permissible. Legal experts told The Hill last week, most universities, at least private ones, can impose “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” that are designed to prevent disruption and allow the campus to efficiently operate.

“The right to free speech, including protest and dissent, is vital to the work of the research university. But it is not unlimited,” Garber wrote. “It must be exercised in a time, place, and manner that respects the right of our community members to do their work, pursue their education, and enjoy the opportunities that a residential campus has to offer.”

School administrators have repeatedly warned individuals participating in the encampment that they are violating university and school policies, Garber noted.

“The encampment favors the voices of a few over the rights of many who have experienced disruption in how they learn and work at a critical time of the semester,” he added. “I call on those participating in the encampment to end the occupation of Harvard Yard.”

Garber said the school has received reports that students’ ability to move throughout campus is being disturbed by the encampment, and that some within or supporting the encampment have “intimidated or harassed other members of our community.” The Hill was not able to independently verify those claims.

He further alleged some protestors at the encampment “yelled” and “interfered” with the work of Harvard staff when asked to show their IDs.

He pointed to the school’s upcoming commencement and said the class of 2024 deserves to “enjoy this milestone uninterrupted and unimpeded.”

Columbia University, the site of the first major encampment last month, announced earlier on Monday it canceled its main graduation ceremony due to “security concerns,” while the University of Southern California (USC) did the same after criticism over its pro-Palestinian valedictorian’s speech.

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