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One for Me, One for You: Garber’s Parallel Task Forces Are a Good Start

Alan M. Garber '76 is interim President of Harvard University.
Alan M. Garber '76 is interim President of Harvard University. By Frank S. Zhou
By Lorenzo Z. Ruiz, Crimson Opinion Writer
Lorenzo Z. Ruiz ’27, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Greenough Hall.

Right now, for what may be a brief and shining moment, I am proud of Harvard’s leadership.

On Friday, interim University President Alan M. Garber ’76 announced the formation of two presidential forces: one dedicated to combating antisemitism and the other to combating Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias.

Outrageously, it took three months, a horrific doxxing campaign, a congressional investigation, fierce campus organizing, and a presidential resignation to arrive at this point. Still, I commend Garber’s simple, profound acknowledgement that both groups have suffered and deserve their university’s support.

No, a gesture will not solve all of our woes. Neither Jewish nor Muslim and Arab students will experience immediate relief from harassment, anxiety, and marginalization.

Yet the very act of establishing these task forces may tell of a larger process underway. It could signal the beginning of a new age of leadership at Harvard: a (hopefully) more measured and adept administration plotting a confident course forward for itself and the institution.

The name “Alan Garber” is not yet saddled with personal baggage and — at least to the broader public — the man behind it is anonymous and inoffensive. In the interim, this will do just fine.

After Gay’s tumultuous tenure, President Garber afforded us a clean slate. Now, with the creation of these task forces, he indicates that he could be more than a placeholder. Garber appears ready to learn from the failures of an administration which modeled precisely what not to do.

On two fronts, Garber’s approach seems poised to improve on Gay’s.

First, former University President Claudine Gay’s responses to Oct. 7 were mostly reactionary, often to their detriment. Her initial vague condemnation of Hamas’ violence was a reaction to criticism of two days of silence. Her subsequent rebuke of Hamas was in turn a reaction to criticism of that first statement’s vagueness. Her formation of an advisory group on antisemitism was a long-delayed reaction to student fear and national outrage.

This was an administration caught playing catch-up, forever stumbling one step behind and failing its community in the process.

Second, Gay’s piecemeal attempts at managing competing interest groups failed to give them equal consideration.

Immediately after Oct. 7, it was clear that events in Gaza and Israel would shake Harvard’s campus. Both combatants bore close ties to an array of religious, cultural, and ideological factions well-reflected in the diverse Harvard community.

Campus friction was inevitable, but a national war of words with Harvard at its center was not.

A more strategic administration would have used foresight: mass violence abroad will invariably produce a ripple effect on our campus. Islamic and Arab as well as Jewish students will be most affected by the unrest. Gay’s administration should have immediately established two parallel task forces designed to alleviate fear, mediate discourse, and ease tensions.

Had Gay sought to assure, with parity, that all students would be safe and heard and that dialogue would be compassionate and controlled, these last few months may have unfolded quite differently.

To borrow a truism, hindsight is always 20/20. But sharp vision — backward and forward — is precisely what we need right now.

President Garber has to thread the needle, managing all manner of interests clamoring for attention. His predecessor waited and deferred and, on acting, did so without parity. We saw how that ended. So, at least on paper, the path forward for Garber is simple: Act early and fairly.

We cannot predict what the future holds — for the war abroad or for the political landscape at home. But our president can, to an extent, control how Harvard reacts.

I am hopeful that the Garber administration, however long it lasts, will continue on the path these task forces suggest. A leader does not walk one pace behind the pack. A leader marches at the fore, and responds to an uncertain world with reason, balance and strategy.

As for the sibling task forces: One for me, one for you is a good start. To be seen now is whether they are more than just a gesture. For the students they are intended to support — and for the Garber administration — they better be.

Lorenzo Z. Ruiz ’27, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Greenough Hall.

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