Harvard University students received some unexpected news last week—their job offers from the international law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP were rescinded due to their association with an open letter critical of the Israeli government.
The offer rescission, first reported by Bloomberg Law, came after the students signed an open letter to the school’s administration voicing support for faculty members who had refused to cross a picket line of an Israeli university. The open letter also criticized some of the government’s policies, which the firm determined were contrary to its own political views.
The news was met with dismay by the students. In response, an anonymous group of students created an online petition, calling on Sullivan & Cromwell to reverse their decision. They argued that it was unfair of the firm to rescind the offers and that the students were acting within their rights to express an opinion without retribution.
The petition has gained over 12,000 signatures, and the students have also won the support of other organizations. Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program issued a statement in support of the students, saying, “The students acted in good faith and out of conscience, and have certainly not acted contrary to the core values of this school.”
As of Monday, the firm had not reversed its decision. It issued a statement on the matter, noting that the students’ signing of the open letter was “inconsistent with the firm’s values.” The statement further indicated that the students could apply for future positions with the firm if they believe their views are aligned with the firm’s.
The incident has called attention to the ethical issues surrounding firms that require applicants to adhere to certain political views. Sullivan & Cromwell isn’t the only firm to rescind job offers for similar reasons, but this incident has raised questions about whether such practices are fair and whether employers should be able to hold applicants to different standards of political expression.
Though Sullivan & Cromwell has not yet reversed its decision, the open letter has achieved part of its goal, which was to draw attention to the underlying issue of human rights abuses in Israel. As the debate continues, it is important to remember that everyone has the right to express their views without fear of retribution.