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Trump Calls Harvard’s Reopening Plan 'Ridiculous'

U.S. President Donald J. Trump criticized Harvard's plan for the fall semester at a panel at the White House Tuesday.
U.S. President Donald J. Trump criticized Harvard's plan for the fall semester at a panel at the White House Tuesday. By Camille G. Caldera
By Camille G. Caldera and Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writers

Amid a push to reopen schools nationwide, U.S. President Donald J. Trump called Harvard University’s plan for the fall semester “ridiculous” at a panel at the White House Tuesday.

Harvard College announced Monday that just 40 percent of the student body — including all freshmen and a select number of sophomores, juniors, and seniors who receive approval — will be allowed to live on campus in the fall semester, and all undergraduate course instruction will be virtual.

“I see Harvard announced that they’re closing for the season, or the year — I think it’s ridiculous,” Trump said. “I think it’s an easy way out, and I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, if you want to know the truth.”

Though the campus will not be accessible to the entire student body, administrators have emphasized that the University will remain open.

At the panel, Trump speculated about the role of Harvard’s $40.9 billion endowment — which he also referenced in April as a reason the University should not accept funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — in the decision.

“I guess their endowment is plenty big,” Trump said. “They don’t have any problem with that.”

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the remarks.

The event — billed as a “National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools” — featured remarks from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and numerous other stakeholders, including doctors, educators, parents, and students.

Nearly all the panelists expressed a desire for schools to reopen in the fall, citing the academic and social benefits of classroom education and advancements in treating and containing the coronavirus, though cases have been rising in recent weeks.

Trump invoked the comments from other panelists in his criticism of Harvard.

“That’s not what we want to do, because it’s very important, as so many of the parents and instructors said today, it’s so important that the children — at this age, especially — are together, that they’re together on campus,” Trump said. “We’re going to be very, very strong on that, powerful in that view. We want our schools open in the fall.”

His remarks aren’t the only clash between his administration and the University when it comes to plans for the fall.

A set of guidelines from U.S. Imigration and Customs Enforcement released Monday revealed that Harvard’s online-only instruction model will likely disqualify its international students from residing in the United States.

The State Department will not issue visas to students taking entirely online classes and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not permit students to enter the country.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow condemned the guidance — which he wrote “undermines the thoughtful approach” of institutions like Harvard — on Monday.

“We are deeply concerned that the guidance issued today by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement imposes a blunt, one-size-fits-all approach to a complex problem, giving international students, particularly those in online programs, few options beyond leaving the country or transferring schools,” Bacow wrote.

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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