The Ivy Coach Daily

June 9, 2020

A Call for Harvard to Reckon with Its Anti-Semitic History

This former president of Harvard University, A. Lawrence Lowell, was a notorious anti-Semite. He also happened to be a racist and a homophobe. Yet Harvard — to this day — whitewashes his legacy.

A. Lawrence Lowell is a name that has popped up from time to time on the pages of our college admissions blog. For those unfamiliar with A. Lawrence Lowell, he was the president of Harvard University from 1909-1933. He also happened to be a notorious anti-Semite who used quotas to limit the number of Jewish students admitted to the elite university. Yet if you read A. Lawrence Lowell’s bio on Harvard’s website, there is no mention of his well documented anti-Semitism (nor of his notorious racism and homophobia either). Rather, Harvard writes of his presidency, “His inaugural address made clear his desire to restore the ’collegiate way of living’ that had inspired Harvard’s founding. His correctives shape undergraduate life to this day.” And, in fact, the man is even praised in his bio for refusing to fire a psychology professor for speaking highly of his native Germany during World War I — a sign of the academic freedom enjoyed under Lowell’s stewardship of the university. Really, Harvard? Talk about whitewashing your own history.

Harvard Praises Its Former Anti-Semitic Leader

As Mitchell Bard writes for The Forward, a wonderful Jewish newspaper our great-grandfather, Max, bought every day for 5 cents (he was given 25 cents a day by our great-grandmother Etel — the rest was to be used for transportation and lunch), “Lowell’s tenure at Harvard, which lasted from 1909-1933, is infamous for Lowell’s institutionalization of racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. It was Lowell who created the Jewish quota at Harvard, capping the number of Jewish students to a maximum of 15% to the student body. He also excluded African American students from living in Harvard Yard, and led a purge of gay students. There has been some recognition of Lowell’s crimes. In 2019, Harvard’s faculty deans decided to remove the portrait of Lowell and his wife from the dining hall in Lowell House…And yet, the removal of that one painting has hardly erased Lowell’s tenure. Another portrait of Lowell hangs in University Hall. And what is more disturbing than portraits or a building with Lowell’s name on it is the university’s whitewashing of Lowell’s problematic legacy.”

Harvard Board of Overseers Must Take Action Now

Ivy Coach hereby issues a call for: (1) the renaming of Lowell House; (2) the removal of any paintings featuring A. Lawrence Lowell on Harvard’s campus; and (3) an immediate and consequential change to the biography of this notorious anti-Semite featured on Harvard’s website. To the Harvard Board of Overseers, history is written — and shaped — by human beings. You are writing and shaping Harvard’s history by excluding A. Lawrence Lowell’s anti-Semitic policies from his biography while you laud him in this same biography for all sorts of things like defending academic freedoms for refusing to fire a man who spoke highly of Germany during World War I. The bio reads like it’s written by a Hollywood publicist, but his bio should not read like a press release. Rather, his bio should be his — and Harvard’s — true, absolutely imperfect story. This whitewashing of history is shameful and we call on the Harvard Board of Overseers to address these grievances at once.

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