By Daniel Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress

Published originally in The Washington Post.

Harvard University remains in an almighty mess after months of turmoil over hate speech. There is a way to fix this: Appoint former Massachusetts governor and retiring U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) university president.

Though I am a lifelong Democrat, did not vote for Romney when he ran for U.S. president in 2012 and have no personal connection to him, I make this suggestion in the sincere and robust hope that he is someone who can navigate the university through painful but necessary reform and drive back the antisemitism that is tarnishing the institution’s credibility.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors and president of the American Jewish Congress, I find it devastating that Harvard has failed to vigorously address the unchecked antisemitism on campus. Anyone who has studied there can attest that Harvard is not an antisemitic institution. I never for a moment felt oppressed or marginalized as a student on the Harvard campus. But to my dismay, recent years have seen an unconscionable spike in — and even worse, an administrative tolerance of — hate speech directed at Jews, including targeting Jewish students. The university’s response has thus far been ramshackle and unproductive, to put it mildly.

Harvard knows there is a problem. Increasing numbers of students, faculty, alumni and donors have expressed discomfort, even horror, at the hostile environment on campus. But in its most talked-about response — the appointment of a task force to combat antisemitism — Harvard included as co-chair a professor who referred to Israel as a “regime of apartheid.” How was this allowed to happen?

As we saw with the disastrous congressional testimony of then-President Claudine Gay, leadership matters. The university president must be the flag-bearer of our values. There is no doubt that there are other Americans of similar standing and stature, but Romney’s unique bridge-building character is precisely what Harvard needs in an age of toxic polarization. A Harvard alumnus, he is an eloquent and experienced administrator who has consistently demonstrated his political independence in defense of what is right, rather than what is expedient.

Romney has been nothing short of a profile in courage in the Senate, supporting gun safety reform and voting to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black female Supreme Court justice. Importantly, he has been a staunch supporter of civil rights for all, including leveling heartfelt criticism at Harvard for failing to protect Jewish students. He can guide Harvard as it faces intense scrutiny from Congress and from an increasingly anxious — even angered — Jewish community.

Although many at Harvard might not share Romney’s politics — a 2022 Harvard Crimson poll shows that more than 80 percent of Harvard’s faculty identify as liberal — choosing him would be an ideal way to nurture a culture and atmosphere of open inquiry and respectful dialogue. What matters more than political leanings is that Romney has the moral courage and independence to identify the root sources of antisemitism at the university, address the decline in Jewish student applications and enrollment and teach a new generation of young adults the importance of mutual tolerance and civilized coexistence.

For hundreds of years, Harvard has stood for the ideal of “veritas,” or “truth.” Pursuing that ideal is a never-ending process and requires a leader who challenges students and faculty to rely on fact and critical thinking rather than trendy slurs and tropes. Mitt Romney has what it takes to lead Harvard in once again engaging in the kind of open discourse needed for every student — regardless of race, religion or orientation — to feel part of the university community.

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.