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Dean Rakesh Khurana speaks to the Crimson in an interview in February. Khurana defended the suspension of the Palestine Solidarity Committee in a Tuesday interview.
Dean Rakesh Khurana speaks to the Crimson in an interview in February. Khurana defended the suspension of the Palestine Solidarity Committee in a Tuesday interview. By Addison Y. Liu
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated April 24, 2024, at 10:59 a.m.

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana defended the decision to suspend the Palestine Solidarity Committee and rejected accusations that the action unfairly targeted pro-Palestine student activists in an interview on Tuesday.

“The College — I can speak for the College — has sought to apply its rules around students and student organizations in a content-neutral way,” Khurana said.

“If I come to learn that there’s been a biased approach or any single student organization has been targeted because of their content, I will take action immediately,” Khurana added. “If somebody has evidence of this and has experienced that in any situation — that they are not being treated in a fair and disinterested and objective way — I immediately want to hear from them.”

The PSC wrote in a press release on Monday, hours after the College announced the group’s suspension, that the University maintains an exception for pro-Palestine activism.

“Harvard has shown us time and again that Palestine remains the exception to free speech,” they wrote. “After standing idly by as pro-Palestine students faced physical and cyber harassment, death threats and rape threats, and racist doxxing, Harvard has now decided to dismantle the only official student group dedicated to the task of representing the Palestinian cause.”

While Khurana insisted the College sought to apply its policies fairly, he expressed a willingness to hear from students who felt the suspension reflected a “Palestine exception” to Harvard’s free speech policies.

“I always worry about anything that might chill speech, and that’s why we try to make sure that our rules are very clear and administered in a content-neutral way,” Khurana added.

Khurana did not answer specific questions about what actions prompted the College to suspend the PSC and what activities led Harvard to take action. In a letter sent to members of the PSC, the College specifically cited a rally on Friday that was co-organized with unrecognized student groups, during which organizers led protesters in a march around Harvard Yard while chanting on megaphones.

Khurana also did not say whether the suspension represented an effort to discourage pro-Palestine protests on campus even as encampments and large-scale protests have taken place in recent days at Columbia University, Yale University, and New York University.

“I don’t discuss the individual disciplinary cases around students or student organizations,” Khurana said.

Khurana also declined to answer questions about how the College would respond to protests on campus.

“I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals,” Khurana said repeatedly when asked about a potential encampment or occupation on Harvard’s campus similar to those at other universities.

On Sunday, the University closed the Yard to non-Harvard affiliates and increased security as an apparent preventative measure against large-scale student demonstrations. The closure notice warned against bringing in unauthorized structures such as tents or tables or blocking access to building entrances, and threatened disciplinary action.

The Yard closure comes amid a wave of pro-Palestine student protests at colleges and universities across the country that have resulted in hundreds of arrests and student suspensions.

In a Monday interview with The Crimson, interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 did not entirely rule out a police response in the event of policy violations or safety threats during demonstrations, but said the administration would set a “very high bar” before doing so.

Khurana declined to comment on the decision by Columbia President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik’s decision to arrest student protesters on charges of trespassing or on whether he would support a potential decision by Garber to follow suit in the case of a similar demonstration on campus.

However, Khurana said that “arresting students is not the goal of the College’s education.”

“I believe that our students are very capable of exercising their voice, including civil protest, in ways that are consistent with the rules, and I have full confidence that they know how to do that,” he said.

Khurana repeatedly referred to the University’s protest guidelines — which Garber clarified in a University-wide January email — which state that “freedom of movement,” the block of ingress or egress to campus buildings, classrooms, offices, and other spaces, and any interference with vehicular, bicycle, or pedestrian traffic is prohibited.

“Effective protest follows the broad guidelines that really allow for protest on this campus, while also allowing for the pursuit of free expression, while also allowing for the academic mission to continue unimpeded,” he said.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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