honoring marty peretz

I have amended this post, noting that those whose names appeared on a letter did NOT agree to have their names listed on it, please see below.

Harvard is working hard to justify honoring Marty Peretz, long time editor of the New Republic. This is because Peretz was taken to task by Nicholas Kristof for asserting two things:

1.) “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.”

2.) “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

Peretz apologized. But interestingly, only for the second statement. Peretz claims that the first statement is “a statement of fact, not of value.” I don’t completely disagree. It’s a fact that for Peretz, Muslim lives are cheap. In fact, Peretz has a very long history of incredibly racist statements about both Arabs and Muslims. It’s hard for me to believe that if these claims were made about Jews, or Blacks, or Gays, or anyone else, that Harvard would continue to work hard to honor him. Harvard has “expressed concern” over Peretz’s views. But defends them in light of a commitment to free speech. I feel they’re defending them because powerful people like Peretz, and, importantly, they’re raising money. I, for one, object. I signed a petition. I’m not sure that will do anything. But what’s one to do in situations like this? Voice my disgust. Hence the blog post. Harvard’s justification letter, after the break. and a list of those who have been supporting a fund for Peretz,  (including: Al Gore, Amy Gutmann, and other all stars).

Harvard Letter:

“As an institution of research and teaching, we are dedicated to the proposition that all people, regardless of color or creed, deserve equal opportunities, equal respect, and equal protection under the law. The recent assertions by Dr. Peretz are therefore distressing to many members of our community, and understandably so.

It is central to the mission of a university to protect and affirm free speech, including the rights of Dr. Peretz, as well as those who disagree with him, to express their views.

We are ultimately stronger as a university when we maintain our commitment to the most basic freedoms that enable the robust exchange of ideas. The undergraduate research fund donated by friends, former students, and colleagues of Dr. Peretz was established earlier this year to recognize his teaching and scholarship as well as his stewardship of the social studies program from its inception in the 1960s through the 1990s. The fund will enable undergraduates to undertake significant research experiences as part of the social sciences curriculum and strengthen our commitment to rigorous intellectual inquiry.”

And those who have signed to support Peretz (admittedly, before the most recently public gaff. but to my knowledge none have removed their support). See the support letter here.

Bill Ackman, Michael Alter, Linc Caplan, Gerry Cardinale, Susan Carney, Jim Cramer, Alan Dershowitz, EJ Dionne, John Driscoll, Daniel Dusek, Dan Ertel, Joe Finder, Frank Foer, Donald Gogel, Russell Goldsmith, Al Gore, Jamie Gorelick, Larry Grafstein, Don Graham, Marc Granetz, Amy Gutmann, Glenn Hutchins, David Ignatius, Janno Lieber, Donal Logue, Charles Nesson, Fern Nesson, Rob Oden, Steve Pinker, Lisbet Rausing, Henry Rosovsky, Nitza Rosovsky, Abigail Thernstrom, Stephan Thernstrom, Craig Turk, Sherry Turkle, Judith Walzer, Michael Walzer, Rich Waldhorn, Leon Wieseltier, Tom Williamson, Juan Carlos Zarate, Leonard Zax, Edward Zwick, and Jesse Zwick.

NOW TO THE AMENDMENT. A person listed above contacted me and wrote the following:

Neither I nor anyone else on that list agreed to anything.  We were (correctly) identified as friends/proteges of Marty’s by the person who sent the e-mail asking us to contribute to a scholarship fund in his honor.  We were therefore passive recipients of that fundraising request.
To be clear: we did not agree to put our names on any fundraising letter.  We were sent this e-mail. I’m sure none of us had any objections whatsoever to being solicited for funds — we’re all people who have benefited from Marty’s generous help (and I don’t mean financial).   Some of us are closer friends of his than others; obviously I am not a close enough friend to have been invited to the party in his honor, the guest list having been selected by Marty.  We did not put our names on a letter asking OTHERS for funds.  We were sent a letter asking for funds.
Tell me if this clears up the confusion.
If you choose to post a clarification, please do make it clear, however, that I remain loyal to Marty and grateful to him for his help and past friendship, and I certainly had no objection whatsoever to being asked to give money.  But it is absolutely not true that I or anyone else on that list agreed to lend our names to a letter of support. Categorically not true.  We were merely the recipients of that appeal.

So, I apologize for getting it wrong. I do find it odd, and have contacted the blog that posted the letter for further clarification. No doubt, more to follow.

2 Comments

  1. Posted September 18, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Hear hear Shamus. The petition, btw, reads a bit like it’s to be signed only by Harvard Alums. That is not in fact the case. They are soliciting signatures more generally.

    The Harvard response is such crap. Yes, Peretz has the right to say BS. But Harvard punishing with a social sanction is hardly the heavy hand of the state. And they are notably not gracing him with this fund for free. Matt Yglesias has said it best (in a generally very incisive post — http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2010/09/harvardperetz-controversy-illustrates-folly-of-charitable-donations-to-wealthy-u-s-universities/#more-$id.

    “It’s really too bad that Harvard has chosen to take this tack. Obviously the only person in this conversation who’s questioned anybody’s right to “free speech” or exhibited a weak “commitment to the most basic freedoms” is Peretz himself.”

    “Harvard is a business run for the benefit of its faculty and administrators. The business model of this business is the exchange of prestige in exchange for money. Peretz has friends who have money that they are willing to exchange for some prestige, and Harvard intends to take the money.”

    Protecting and affirming free speech my patootie. Harvard can freely censure him, and Peretz can freely complain about it in the magazine that he bought with money that he earned by marrying so well.

  2. Posted September 19, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I like the argument based on free speech and equal respect. By that logic, Harvard should be honoring me too. Not to honor me is to deny me free speech and respect.

    If Harvard wants to raise money for a fund, why don’t they do it the way Peretz did — by marrying someone really, really rich?

    And as Gen Westmoreland showed us long ago, the statement that another group thinks that life is cheap might well be a prelude to killing them in large numbers.


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  1. [...] Wieseltier, Tom Williamson, Juan Carlos Zarate, Leonard Zax, Edward Zwick, and Jesse ZwickAt least one of these people has said that while he is a friend of Peretz's, he did not give his permission to have his name used in a [...]

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