Harvard leaders subpoenaed for documents in House antisemitism probe

A House committee served subpoenas Friday to Harvard officials to compel the university to turn over more documents in its investigation into campus antisemitism.

The legal directives marked a significant escalation in a high-profile sparring match between lawmakers and university leaders that has left powerful institutions such as Harvard on the defensive, and raised questions about academic freedom, safety on campus and the boundaries of free speech.

The scrutiny has intensified as tensions flared up at many colleges and universities after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, and there have been an increase in reports of antisemitism on campuses.

Harvard, in particular, has been singled out by lawmakers as a target.

Its former leader, Claudine Gay, was among three college presidents summoned to testify before a House panel on antisemitism in December. Gay later resigned amid mounting criticism of her testimony and plagiarism allegations.

The university said it has produced thousands of pages of documents for lawmakers. But the panel’s leaders have called the responses inadequate. The committee is still seeking, among other things, details from meetings of Harvard’s two most powerful governing boards and the entity that manages the school’s endowment, and all communications about antisemitism involving the governing boards.

“I will not tolerate delay and defiance of our investigation while Harvard’s Jewish students continue to endure the firestorm of antisemitism that has engulfed its campus,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement Friday. The school has had every opportunity to demonstrate its stated commitment to combating antisemitism with actions, not words, she said.


Foxx had previously threatened to issue a subpoena if the university didn’t submit certain “priority” documents this week. “It is my hope that these subpoenas serve as a wake-up call to Harvard that Congress will not tolerate antisemitic hate in its classrooms or on campus.”

The subpoenas were served to Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny Pritzker; the university’s interim president, Alan Garber; and Harvard Management Company’s chief executive, N.P. Narvekar. The committee ordered the officials to provide certain documents by March 4.

The committee has also recently requested documents from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.

Jonathan Swain, a Harvard spokesman, said it was unfortunate that the committee chose to issue subpoenas, given the breadth and extensive nature of the information the university has provided in recent weeks. The university’s 10 submissions total more than 3,500 pages, he said in a statement, and directly address key areas of inquiry put forward by the committee. “While the subpoenas were unwarranted,” he said, “Harvard remains committed to cooperating with the Committee and will continue to provide additional materials, while protecting the legitimate privacy, safety and security concerns of our community.”

Swain said Harvard remains steadfast in its commitment to combating antisemitism and ongoing efforts “to ensure that Jewish students feel safe, valued, and embraced at Harvard.”

But Foxx said that Harvard had failed to adequately respond to the committee’s request despite multiple deadline extensions, and the school’s responses were inadequate on four requests deemed priorities by the committee. Of the 2,516 pages of documents Harvard provided, she said, “at least 1,032 — over 40% — were already publicly available.”

The committee had asked for some public documents in its request, such as reports, publications and presentations of the Harvard Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging.

In one of the subpoenas, Narvekar was told to produce “all Harvard Management Company meeting minutes and/or summaries, whether formal or informal, between Oct. 7, 2023, and Jan. 2, 2024.”

For Garber and Pritzker, Foxx provided an 11-point list that includes all reports of antisemitic incidents to university officials and communications about them since 2021; all meeting minutes and summaries of the Harvard Corporation and Board of Overseers since 2021; and documents and communications about the establishment of a task force on antisemitism, as well as those concerning specified protests on campus and posts on social media “targeting Jews, Israelis, Israel, Zionists, or Zionism.”

The subpoenas are unprecedented, said Ethan Ris, an associate professor at the University of Nevada at Reno who’s an expert in higher education administration. “It’s dangerous and, frankly, outrageous.”

One concern he has is about separation of powers at the federal level. The Education Department is charged with oversight of educational issues, he said, including whether institutions have violated federal law. “That’s not Congress’s job.”

It’s particularly outrageous, in his view, that a Republican-led committee “is nosing into the affairs of a private American corporation.” If the committee was looking into the U.S. Naval Academy, he said, he wouldn’t have an issue with that.

Randall Kennedy, a professor of law at Harvard, said: “As a political matter, this latest move is obviously a continuation of this committee’s effort to intimidate and harass Harvard. The committee’s convenors are not seeking information in an effort to reach a fair-minded assessment,” he wrote in an email. “They have reached their tendentious conclusion. The rest is mere demagogy. This purported ‘investigation’ is propaganda and punishment.”

The move was aggressive, said Suzanne Nossel, the chief executive of PEN America, and risks casting a chill: Every university in the country is now on notice that private deliberations may all become public.

She said everyone wants to see the problem of antisemitism addressed. “But if this committee believes in free speech and academic freedom, it really should proceed with some caution, because what they’re doing at Harvard is being watched all over the country and will have repercussions throughout the sector.”

Dara Horn, a novelist and alumna of Harvard who served on the antisemitism advisory group convened by Gay in October, said it was devastating to hear from Jewish students about their experiences on campus and see how little the university had done to help them. She said Gay and Garber, who was then the provost, attended the advisory group’s twice-weekly meetings, so they were clearly invested in the issue.

But Horn said she felt changes needed to happen more quickly. “I think they were sincere in trying to address this, but I don’t think there was a full understanding of the urgency of this.”


Of the House committee’s investigation, she said, “I wish there was a way to do this that wasn’t adversarial. But if this is the outside pressure that they need to make serious changes,” maybe that is what is needed.

But Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said it appeared no amount of information could satisfy the committee. “We expected this to happen, because the setup has always been to subpoena Harvard, to subpoena other institutions,” he said. “I think Penn will be next.”