Stanford is the latest elite university whose alumni have voiced their displeasure over the school’s leadership amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. In an open letter published today (October 25), nearly 1,200 Stanford alumni — mostly MBAs who attended the Graduate School of Business — write that the school’s administration has failed to support Jewish students amid pro-Palestine protests following Hamas’ terror strikes and subsequent Israeli attacks in Gaza this month. The alumni, addressing university President Richard Saller and Provost Jenny Martinez, declare their “grave disappointment” and call for concrete steps to ensure the safety of Jewish students on campus.
The attacks by the militant Palestinian group Hamas on October 7, during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, claimed more than 1,400 Israeli lives and sparked a war that has led to the deaths of more than 5,000 in Gaza. In the United States and elsewhere, societal divisions over the conflict run deep, and many have grappled with how to respond. That includes the world of business: According to Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, more than 150 corporations have released statements condemning the initial attack by Hamas — but as Stanford GSB professor Sarah Soule tells ABC News, those statements have ranged widely in tone, message, and effectiveness. “What problem is being solved by issuing these statements?” Soule says.
But if corporations’ messages on the Mideast war have been muddled and dubiously helpful, universities and colleges have hardly covered themselves in glory. The University of Pennsylvania, home to the Wharton School, drew the ire of several high-profile donors for what they say has been an inadequate (and, in one prominent case, “embarrassing”) response; many, including Ronald Lauder, namesake of Wharton’s Lauder Institute, are threatening to withdraw their financial support for the school. Writing on the website Real Clear Education on October 20, Marc Zvi Brettler, the Bernice and Morton Lerner distinguished professor in Judaic studies at Duke University, and Michael B. Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, charged America’s leading universities with having “an antisemitism problem” — and one that “starts at the top.” They single out Columbia University President Minouche Shafik and Dean of Columbia Law School Gillian Lester, as well as Harvard University President Claudine Gay, for abrogating their “responsibility to educate and lead” with inadequate statements of condemnation, thus “failing their mission at the most basic level.”
See Poets&Quants’ coverage of the conflict in the Middle East and its impact on graduate business education: A BACKLASH CAUSES INSEAD’S DEAN TO ISSUE A SECOND MESSAGE ON HAMAS ATTACK ON ISRAEL and BUSINESS SCHOOL DEANS FACE CONTROVERSY OVER STATEMENTS ON HAMAS ATTACK ON ISRAEL
‘THIS IS NOT LEADERSHIP’
On Monday (October 23), prominent Harvard Business School alumni Mitt Romney, the senator from Utah, and Seth Klarman, the billionaire hedge fund manager and founder of the Times of Israel, signed an open letter condemning HBS and Harvard for poor leadership in response to the Hamas attacks. The letter, which has more than 1,000 other signatories — most of them Harvard MBAs — calls out Harvard President Gay and HBS Dean Srikant Datar, among others, for failing to meet the moment, especially as it pertains to keeping Israeli and Jewish Harvard students safe amid widespread and growing pro-Palestinian protests on campus.
“The expressions of hate and vitriol against Jews have continued and strengthened over the last week on Harvard’s campuses,” the letter reads. “The threatening, violent protests by pro-Palestinian groups on Harvard campuses become more heinous with each passing day. The videos that have been made public, particularly the most recent violent assault of an Israeli student on the Harvard Business School campus, allow us all to see how Jewish and Israeli students are targets of threats and violence from groups of pro-Palestinian students. It goes without saying that singling out any one group of students in verbal and physical attacks based on their religion or because of events halfway across the world is inappropriate, inconsistent with Harvard’s values and something that would not be tolerated in any other context. Given that Harvard has been vocal in its advocacy for the rights of students from other religious, racial and ethnic groups, this silence, amidst the meteoric rise in antisemitism, is deafening.”
“Jewish students have locked themselves in dorm rooms across your campuses afraid for their own safety. Despite these serious concerns, University leadership shockingly has been paralyzed. When another protest was about to occur, the only thing leadership did was to email the heads of the Jewish Student Association to advise them they could counterprotest if they wanted or they could hide for the day in a room the University had reserved for Jewish and Israeli students. Jewish and Israeli students are scared, have been ostracized from their communities and are afraid for their safety.
“I know you know all of this, as we have been assured by multiple close stakeholders that you have been ensconced in endless meetings discussing what to do.
“This is not leadership.”
UC-BERKELEY & STANFORD CALLED OUT
Romney, Klarman, and others called on Harvard to “restate and enforce the University’s existing moral code of conduct required of ALL students, employees and faculty members”; “recognize that the University campus is private property and that all participants in any protest must be enrolled students”; and “permit only protests that have been scheduled and allow only students to attend.” Finally, they say, “In order to become a model for campus free speech, the University should immediately develop and require that all students participate in a semester-long course that teaches productive discourse, critical thinking and the interrogation of facts so students learn to debate through reasoned inquiry.”
Marc Brettler and Michael Poliakoff saved special critiques for the University of California Berkeley and Stanford. Berkeley, they write, “spends $36 million annually on its Division of Equity & Inclusion” yet it “may be the most openly antisemitic campus in the country. Its law school is under federal investigation for discriminating against Jews. Student organizations there expressed their ‘unwavering support’ for the Hamas pogrom. The president refused to condemn this statement. Instead, he expressed his heartbreak at ‘the violence and suffering in Israel and Gaza,’ pointedly comparing Israel’s self-defense to the terrorist attacks themselves, gesturing, like too many others, to the ‘complex history’ of the situation.”
At Stanford, meanwhile, the administration has added “dishonesty to cowardice,” they continue, “despite finally acknowledging the horror. Criticized for its silence about the weekend’s slaughter, Stanford claimed in an unsigned statement that it ‘does not take positions on geopolitical issues and news events.’ But when Russia invaded Ukraine, Stanford’s president released this statement: ‘The unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and the attack it represents on democracy, is beyond shocking.’ He continued, ‘It has been remarkable to witness the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people.’”
However, Stanford President Saller and Provost Martinez did write an open letter to the university on October 11 in which they acknowledged “expressions of concern” for Jewish student safety and added that, “As a moral matter, we condemn all terrorism and mass atrocities. This includes the deliberate attack on civilians … by Hamas.”
STANFORD ALUMNI CALL FOR BAN ON RALLIES THAT GLORIFY TERRORIST ATTACKS
In their open letter to Stanford’s leadership October 25, MBAs and other alumni identify themselves as “appalled members of the Stanford community, with grave disappointment in your response to the atrocities committed by Hamas in southern Israel — the worst mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust — and the growing expressions of hate and persecution on campus that have followed. Your failure to clearly condemn Hamas’ barbarism and those who celebrate it, without conflating unrelated issues, is a shocking abrogation of your responsibility as leaders to draw a bright line between right and wrong, define the boundaries of permitted behavior, eradicate dangerous ignorance, and protect the Stanford community from escalating hatred and violence.”
The alumni add that school leaders’ statements to date have amounted to equivocation, and that “the October 7 massacre does not merit intellectual debate or rationalization. Such moral relativism gives credence to the justification of Hamas’ actions as legitimate resistance, which has been promoted extensively on campus and breeds ignorance while fanning the flames of hate.” The letter points to several disturbing incidents that have occurred on the school’s Palo Alto campus since the start of the war, including “multiple messages of hatred and antisemitism … displayed freely across campus, including banners and chalk writing promoting hate for and the death of Israel.”
They called on the school to take several concrete actions, including issuing “a dedicated, unambiguous statement 1) recognizing and condemning the absolute immorality and illegitimacy of Hamas’ actions; 2) acknowledging and condemning antisemitism and the cases of antisemitism on campus, and demonstrating leadership’s resolve to uproot anti-Jewish racism on campus in all its forms; and 3) calling for the immediate release of the innocent civilian hostages, including many Americans”; and implored Stanford’s leadership to “establish and enforce a ban on rallies or other events on campus that celebrate, glorify, or condone terrorist attacks or the destruction of Israel or that promote antisemitism.”
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