Harvard drops Paulin's talk

November 15, 2002

Harvard University has cancelled a lecture by Oxford academic and poet Tom Paulin after complaints about his criticisms of Israel.

Mr Paulin had been due to speak to the English department last night. A statement from the department said that it had been decided by "mutual consent" that the lecture would not take place.

"The English department shares the concerns expressed by many members of the Harvard community and sincerely regrets any consternation and divisiveness that the invitation may have unintentionally caused among students, colleagues and members of the wider community."

The statement added that Mr Paulin had been invited on the basis of his poetic accomplishments and "in ignorance of the views that he has expressed".

The decision to withdraw the invitation has the support of Harvard president Lawrence Summers. "My position was that it was for the department to decide, and I believe the department has come to the appropriate decision," a statement from his office said this week.

This stand contrasts with that of Oxford. The university has completed an internal inquiry into the allegation that Mr Paulin told an Egyptian newspaper that US-born Israeli settlers should be shot dead. Oxford said this week that the results of that inquiry would not be made public and that Mr Paulin was still employed by the university.

Mr Paulin, who lectures in English at Hertford College, is on sabbatical and was unavailable for comment. He said in a letter to The Daily Telegraph in April that his views had been distorted. "I do not support attacks on Israeli civilians under any circumstances," he wrote. Hertford College also declined to comment.

Earlier this week, a columnist in America's National Review criticised the Harvard invitation. "This is not just the equivalent of, for example, Harvard inviting a mathematician who happens to belong to the Ku Klux Klan, to give a lecture on mathematics. In Paulin's case, his political and racial views are integral to his work," Tom Gross wrote.

Mr Gross, a former reporter for The Sunday Telegraph and New York's Daily News , said UKacademics had been "conspicuous by their lack of criticism of Paulin". Mr Gross said of Oxford academics: "It is highly unlikely that Paulin's colleagues would have remained so silent had he incited people to murder blacks, homosexuals, or anybody else other than Americans and Jews."

Letters, page 17

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