newsSchools & Higher Education

House committee probes university presidents on campus antisemitism

“Your institution is clearly producing students who are sympathetic to a terrorist organization,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.). “Don’t you think that’s a misuse of taxpayer dollars?”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asks a question during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus with the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Rep. Stefanik.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asks a question during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus with the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: Courtesy of the Office of Rep. Stefanik.

The presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology faced tough questions on Tuesday during a nearly four-hour-long U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on campus antisemitism after Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks.

Republican committee members directed some of their most pointed questions to Claudine Gay, president of Harvard, about political bias among students and faculty, free speech and the actions of anti-Israel student groups on her campus.

“Your institution is clearly producing students who are sympathetic to a terrorist organization,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.). “Don’t you think that’s a misuse of taxpayer dollars?”

Good noted that Harvard receives nearly $1 billion annually in federal funding.

While Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) welcomed the hearing, the committee’s ranking member criticized Republicans for proposing budget cuts to the Department of Education’s civil-rights office, which is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, including their application for Jewish students.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Scott, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard (class of 1969). “You can’t call for action, then hamstring the agency charged with taking that action to protect students and civil rights.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) asked Gay, Penn president Liz Magill and MIT president Sally Kornbluth if calling for genocide against Jews would violate the codes of conduct at their schools. All three said it would depend on whether the speech constituted harassment or bullying.

“So the answer is ‘yes’—that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard’s code of conduct, correct?” Stefanik asked. (Stefanik, who has a 2006 bachelor’s from Harvard, has called for Gay to resign. In 2021, the Harvard Institute of Politics removed Stefanik from its senior advisory committee.)

“It depends on the context,” Gay said.

“It does not depend on the context. The answer is ‘yes,’ and this is why you should resign,” Stefanik said. “These are unacceptable answers across the board.”

Gay and Magill also faced questions as to how they could defend the statements and actions of anti-Israel faculty and staff on free-speech grounds when their academic institutions rank last and second-to-last, respectively, in the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s free-speech ranking of 248 colleges.

“Respectfully, I disagree with that perspective, as represented in the report that you’ve cited,” Gay said. “I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of how Harvard treats speech on campus. We are committed to free expression and to making space for a wide range of views and perspectives on our campus.”

Gay faced widespread criticism in the aftermath of Oct. 7 for her failure to immediately condemn the attacks and to delay issuing a rebuke to more than 30 Harvard student organizations that signed an open letter blaming Israel for the massacre of 1,200 people.

Gay’s predecessor, Larry Summers, posted on X on Oct. 10 that Harvard’s eventual statement condemning Hamas and the student groups was insufficient.

“Why can’t we find anything approaching the moral clarity of Harvard statements after George Floyd’s death or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when terrorists kill, rape and take hostage hundreds of Israelis attending a music festival?” he wrote.

 ‘A clear safety concern’

Asked if she would have done anything differently, Gay said that she would have responded to the letter faster if she had understood how it would be received.

“Had I known that the statement issued by the students would have been wrongly attributed to the university, I would have spoken sooner about it, but I was focused on action that weekend, not statements,” she said on Tuesday.

Jewish students from the three universities who attended the hearings spoke about their experiences of antisemitism on campus since Oct. 7 at a press conference, hosted by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

Despite repeated assurances from the university presidents during the hearing that policies and procedures were in place to keep students safe, the students said that university leaders were failing to protect Jewish students.

“A few weeks ago, I was in a study room in the law school while classes were going on, and about 200 people—many of whom not only were not law students but were not Harvard affiliates—got into our building, marched down the halls,” said Jonathan Frieden, a Harvard Law School student. 

“Jews took off their kippot, and I watched someone hide under a desk. Many of my friends ran up to the dean of students and DEI office, but they had locked their doors for their own safety,” added Frieden, using the acronym for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“This was such a clear safety concern. It was also explicitly against school policy as a disruptive class,” he said. “We heard nothing from Harvard.”

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Topics
Comments
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates