Testimony by the leaders of three top universities at a congressional hearing this week on antisemitism on college campuses has sparked significant backlash, including calls to resign.
Why it matters: Rarely has a congressional hearing generated this much bipartisan rage.
The big picture: Universities have been under fire over their responses to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which has coincided with student protests and a surge in antisemitic and anti-Arab hate crimes in the U.S.
- Harvard University president Claudine Gay, MIT president Sally Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill appeared Tuesday before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where they defended their responses to incidents of antisemitism on their campuses.
- Critics have condemned their answers to New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik’s yes/no question during the hearing on whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” violated the schools’ codes of conduct.
- The leaders said in varying ways that the answer would be context specific, and related to whether speech turned into conduct.
Driving the news: White House spokesperson Andrew Bates issued a sharp statement to Axios about the hearing. “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country,” Bates said.
- “Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting,” the statement said, “and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) said UPenn president Magill failed to act with moral clarity. He called on the university’s board of trustees, of which he is a nonvoting member, to meet soon and decide how to respond to the matter.
- Marc Rowan, the board chair at his alma mater Wharton School of Business, called on the board to rescind support for Magill. Rowan is a co-founder and the CEO of alternative asset manager Apollo Global Management.
- Students at Penn and Harvard have criticized their university presidents, the New York Times reported.
Business leaders also decried the university presidents’ statements.
- Pershing Square Capital Management’s Bill Ackman, a Harvard alum, called for their resignations.
- AQR Capital Management’s Clifford Asness said he wished he could stop donating to Penn, his alma mater, “twice.”
Details: The university leaders were questioned about what was described as a lack of punishment for students and student groups and what speech would warrant disciplinary action.
- Gay, Harvard’s president, said the university protects free speech until it escalates into bullying, harassment or intimidation.
- Gay said that even applied to speech she found “personally abhorrent” or “at odds with the values of Harvard,” such as calls for an “intifada” against Israel.
- In a statement issued on Wednesday, Gay said protecting free speech should not be equated to condoning violence against Jewish students.
- “Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account,” the statement said.
- Spokespeople for the University of Pennsylvania and MIT did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Context: Reports of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and antisemitic abuse have risen on campuses and hate crimes have surged in major U.S. cities since the Israel-Hamas war began.
- The Department of Education launched investigations into at least six colleges over alleged incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia last month.
- Harvard now faces a federal investigation over allegations of antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus.
Rep. Stefanik Questions Harvard University President Who Refuses To Answer Basic Questions
Biden Admin Somehow Ignored Years Of Antisemitism From Muslim Org It Partnered With
The Biden administration cut ties on Thursday with a major Muslim civil rights group it partnered with, citing antisemitic remarks from the organization’s director in November, but brushed aside years of its documented history of antisemitic statements years prior.
In May, the Biden White House partnered with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a self-proclaimed civil rights organization, to combat antisemitism in the United States. The Biden administration cut ties after its director claimed he was “happy” about the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks, but had ignored years of antisemitic and anti-Israel statements well before it patterned with the organization.
“The Council on American-Islamic Relations and Islamic Relief Worldwide are not innocuous ‘faith-based’ groups,” Asra Nomani, co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement, previously told the DCNF. “They are dangerous organizations that believe in political Islam, or Islamism, and stoke anti-American, anti-Jew intolerance and hate.”
CAIR Los Angeles Executive Director Hussam Ayloush said in 2018 that Iran and Israel were equitable and both a “cancerous tumor,” and declared that the Middle East would be better off “once both murder regimes are terminated,” according to an X post. Following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks against Israel, Ayloush seemed to celebrate and insisted that Israel “does not have the right to defend itself,” according to JNS.
Congress Opens Investigation Into Harvard Over Antisemitism on Campus
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce launched a congressional investigation into Harvard over allegations of antisemitism on campus, the Committee announced on Thursday.
The investigation into Harvard comes two days after Harvard President Claudine Gay testified before Congress during a tense hearing about antisemitism on college and university campuses. Gay, who testified alongside MIT President Sally A. Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill, faced a wave of backlash over her testimony.
Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) announced the investigation in a statement to The Crimson Thursday afternoon.
“After this week’s pathetic and morally bankrupt testimony by university presidents when answering my questions, the Education and Workforce Committee is launching an official Congressional investigation with the full force of subpoena power into Penn, MIT, & Harvard and others,” Stefanik wrote. “We will use our full Congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage.”
The committee announced in a statement on its official X account that it will be taking “additional action to hold Harvard, UPenn, and MIT accountable for failing to provide Jewish students with the safe learning environment they are due under law.”
“These actions will include document requests for their policies and disciplinary records as the Committee examines their seemingly deplorable record,” the committee added.
Gay said in an interview with The Crimson Thursday afternoon that while Harvard has not received official notice of an investigation from the Committee, the University would comply with one.
“I’m not even sure what I’m really responding to, but I understand through the news that there is an inquiry,” Gay said. “Once we receive official notice, we will comply with whatever information is called for.”
University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in a statement that Harvard “looks forward to sharing information with the Committee” during its investigation.
“Harvard’s work to combat antisemitism in our community is advancing with the highest commitment and attention from University leaders,” he wrote.
Rep. Virginia A. Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, confirmed the opening of a formal congressional hearing into Harvard.
“The testimony we received earlier this week from Presidents Gay, Magill, and Kornbluth about the responses of Harvard, UPenn, and MIT to the rampant antisemitism displayed on their campuses by students and faculty was absolutely unacceptable,” Foxx said. “Committee members have deep concerns with their leadership and their failure to take steps to provide Jewish students the safe learning environment they are due under law.”
“Given those institutional and personal failures, the Committee is opening a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures,” Foxx added.
From the Crimson comments section:
“This Congressional investigation, together with yesterday’s White House condemnation of President Gay’s performance, further raises the chances that Harvard’s federal funding may be at risk for its repeated and continuing violation of Title VI, which requires schools receiving such funding to protect their students from racially motivated threats. “Academic free speech” and “context” cannot render anodyne calls for the mass murder of a race that put members of that race on the Harvard campus in reasonable fear for their lives. Exactly what does the Harvard administration plan to do if and when the House Committee on Education and the Workforce concludes after investigating that the University is in continuing violation of Title VI?”
“Academic free speech means speaking about things you have a recognized academic competence, recognized by one’s peers and by publications in academic journals. It certainly doesn’t cover call to kill Jews.“
Free speech in the US constitution concerns only the government, not a private institution which has the right to regulate the speech of both its employees and its students!”
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