July 19, 1997
Studies Gift: A Headache for Harvard
By DINITIA SMITH
by] Hollis Page Harman
1994, the financier Ken Lipper, one of
Harvard University's most powerful donors,
offered his alma mater $3.2 million to establish
a chair of Holocaust studies. It would be a
professorship that, because of Harvard's reach
and intellectual might, could define Holocaust
scholarship for years to come. But three years
later, after a national search among leading
scholars in the field, the members of a faculty
committee cannot agree on a candidate to fill
the post, and the chair remains
Furthermore, the search has been ridden with
backbiting and accusations, among them that Mr.
Lipper has interfered in favor of his own
candidate, a controversial scholar of the
J. Goldhagen, an associate professor of
government and social studies at Harvard who
elicits strong pro and con reactions among his
Mr. Lipper has refused to allow Harvard to
give the position on a temporary basis to
another noted scholar, Saul Friedlander.
Some candidates have charged that Harvard has
allowed Mr. Lipper. who has given close to $8
million to the institution and is a former
deputy Mayor of New York, to meddle in faculty
hiring, which is considered unacceptable at most
Harvard denies giving in to Mr. Lipper's
wishes, saying that it was only honoring the
original terms of his gift for a permanent
position. And Mr. Lipper has denied trying to
influence the search.
Gossip about the search is intensified by the
public feuding among some of the candidates. Mr.
Goldhagen, author of
Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the
Holocaust," in which he traces the
Holocaust to deep-rooted anti-Semitism in German
culture, has been locked in an angry debate with
Browning, a professor at Pacific
Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. Mr.
Browning has studied some of the same material,
but sees the Holocaust in different terms, in
part as the result of social and political
pressures on the perpetrators.
Mr. Goldhagen has accused Mr. Browning of
ignoring important documents in order to advance
his own thesis. Their fight has spilled over
into the pages of The New
Republic, with Mr. Browning saying that
Mr. Goldhagen had reached "a new low." A third
candidate for the new professorship, Omer
Bartov, a professor at Rutgers University,
has also attacked Mr. Goldhagen in
The New Republic.
Stories about the Harvard search have appeared
in the Chronicle of Higher
Education and in
The controversy at
Harvard comes just after Yale turned away a
gift from Larry Kramer, the author and
gay rights advocate, to endow a chair in gay
and lesbian studies. In 1995, Yale returned a
$20 million gift from Lee Bass, a
member of a Houston oil family, for a program
in Western civilization, because Mr. Bass
wanted to approve faculty members.
But at the heart of the dispute at Harvard
are profound differences between scholars about
the way the Holocaust should be studied. There
is also something of an academic turf war going
on, with different departments coveting the new
Mr. Lipper, the son of a Bronx shoe salesman,
himself went to Columbia University, as an
undergraduate on scholarship, and then attended
Harvard Law School. He has been a partner in
Lehman Brothers and Salomon Brothers and was a
screenwriter for the 1996 movie "City Hall." His
latest gift to Harvard was part of a $5 million
package, including $1 million for the Kennedy
School of Government to train the new
Palestinian Authority in monetary policy.
Mr. Lipper wanted to name the new Harvard
chair "The Helen Zelaznik Professorship for
Holocaust and Cognate Studies" in honor of the
grandmother of his wife, Evelyn, who, along with
his wife's older sister, died at Bergen-Belsen.
Mrs. Lipper is the daughter of the late
Joseph Gruss, who made a fortune in oil
and gas exploration.
There is believed to be only one chair in
Holocaust studies at a major university in the
United States, at the University of California
at Los Angeles, and it is held by Mr.
It took a year and a half for Harvard to
write a job description for the proposed
professorship. After the job was defined Mr.
Lipper donated the first $1 million as an
incentive to find a candidate. A search
committee was formed, headed by Charles S.
Maier, a scholar of European history, and
candidates were invited too Harvard to lecture.
Most of the great scholars of the Holocaust --
Yehuda Bauer, Raul Hilberg, Mr.
Friedlander -- are of retirement age, so the
committee focused on the next generation. In
addition to Mr. Goldhagen, Mr. Browning, Mr.
Friedlander and Mr. Bartov, the committee
interviewed Dan Diner, a professor at die
University of Essen and the University of Tel
Aviv, who has written on how Nazism is portrayed
in contemporary Germany. Another candidate was
Samuel Kassow, a professor of history at
Trinity College in Hartford, who is writing a
book on Emmanuel Ringelblum, a historian
who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto.
From the beginning, there were differences
among committee members about how the Holocaust
should he studied. Ruth Wisse, a
professor of Near Eastern languages and
civilizations at Harvard and a scholar of Jewish
literature, questioned the whole notion of a
chair in Holocaust studies. "It's a strange
idea," Ms. Wisse said recently from Cambridge.
"Is there a chair in 'Communism?' You don't have
a chair in modern Jewish history, but you have
one on the destruction of the Jewish
Some on the committee wanted a scholar who
studied the perpetrators of the Holocaust ;
others wanted a scholar who studied the
Ms. Wisse was said to favor Mr. Kassow, a
scholar of the victims. "The person should he
able to command German sources and Jewish
historical sources," said Ms. Wisse. But the
problem was that Mr. Kassow had not yet
published his new work.
Mr. Browning, who
studies the perpetrators, believed he was
ruled out because, he said recently, "I'm not
Jewish. I come from a small college."
Mr. Goldhagen refused to comment on the
Another question was, which department would
get the chair: government, history or Near
Eastern languages and civilizations, which
includes the Jewish studies program? I'm sure
there is a turf war going on buried in this,"
said Ms. Wisse, "though it's not a major
In the end, the committee couldn't agree on
anyone. "I don't think the historians or the
people in Jewish studies wanted this chair," Mr.
Browning said. The field "was considered too
narrow, too faddish," Mr. Browning went on. "The
insistence on a chair in Holocaust studies came
from the administration because he --" Mr.
Lipper "-- is a large donor."
The committee decided instead on a temporary
measure, to invite Mr. Friedlander to visit
Harvard one semester a year until a new
candidate could be found. Mr. Friedlander, who
is 64, was never offered the position on a
But when Mr. Lipper was presented with Mr.
Friedlander as a substitute, he vetoed the
choice, saying he wanted someone In a permanent
position. The choice of Mr. Friedlander "had
nothing to do with my objectives of a grant to
train Ph.D's," Mr. Lipper said. "It was a
He pointed out that Harvard already had a
good candidate: Mr. Goldhagen. The problem is
that Mr. Goldhagen does not have tenure. Mr.
Lipper said, however, that he would he willing
to permit the professorship to be held by a
nontenured faculty member and offered to wait
for a permanent candidate until Mr. Goldhagen
came up for tenure in the fall of 1998. This was
perceived by some as intolerable
Mr. Browning said he was taken aback. "By the
standards of higher education, a donor should
have no role in the selection of an individual,"
he said. "The fact that the donor continues to
play a role is an academic scandal." Harvard,
for its part, says that it never made its offer
to Mr. Friedlander final. "In this university,
as I hope at all universities, donors have no
role in the selection of faculty," said
Jeremy Knowles, dean of Harvard's faculty
of arts and sciences.
For now, the search has been left open until
the various contenders ripen, perhaps until Mr.
Goldhagen gets tenure or Mr. Kassow publishes
his book. Meanwhile, Mr. Lipper's $2 million
waits in limbo, and Harvard continues to earn
interest on his initial gift of $1 million.
Mr. Lipper said the long search had made him
a wiser man. "I've learned from this," he said,
"that it's sometimes harder to receive money
than it is to give money away."
note: Professor Christopher Browning is one
of the expert
selected by Prof Deborah Lipstadt to defend her
in the David Irving libel