Harvard, MIT and Penn presidents grilled by lawmakers at Capitol Hill - Hindustan Times
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Harvard, MIT and Penn presidents grilled by lawmakers at Capitol Hill, Bill Ackman asks them to ‘resign in disgrace’

BySumanti Sen
Dec 06, 2023 10:35 AM IST

At the hearing, titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism,' the presidents promised to tackle increasing hate on campuses

The presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) testified Tuesday on Capitol Hill about increasing concerns of antisemitism on their campuses. The questioning came on the back of rising hate crimes fuelled by the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict being reported on campuses.

(L-R) Claudine Gay, Elizabeth Magill, Sally Kornbluth testified on Capitol Hill about increasing antisemitism on their campuses (REUTERS/Ken Cedeno and Kevin Dietsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
(L-R) Claudine Gay, Elizabeth Magill, Sally Kornbluth testified on Capitol Hill about increasing antisemitism on their campuses (REUTERS/Ken Cedeno and Kevin Dietsch / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

The hearing was titled ‘Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism' on Tuesday, December 5, was attended by Claudine Gay of Harvard, Elizabeth Magill of Penn and Sally Kornbluth of MIT. The trio was sitting questioned by Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

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A recent Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International report revealed that a majority of Jewish students felt physically and emotionally safe on campus before the October 7 Hamas attack. Following the tragedy, the numbers dropped to 46% and 33%, respectively.

‘Sought to confront hate while preserving free expression’

The three of them spoke about the need to balance protecting free speech and keeping students safe at the same time. Kornbluth said she believes there is a difference “between what we can say to each other — that is, what we have a right to say — and what we should say as members of one community.” They even acknowledged and vowed to tackle the parallel surge in Islamophobia and other forms of hate as well.

The presidents were grilled for several hours, and were asked questions about their disciplinary actions toward students involved in anti-Semitic acts. They were also asked how their hiring practices made sure their faculty represent diverse viewpoints, and what measures they are taking to ensure safety on campus.

Ever since the October 7 attack, the Department of Education has opened various investigations into alleged incidents of hate and anti-Semitism on campuses. Harvard and Penn are under investigation, along with six other colleges and four K-12 school districts. The investigations were launched under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The presidents have been criticised for their approach towards a question on whether“calling for the genocide of Jews” is against the universities’ respective codes of conduct. When New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik asked this question, all three presidents claimed the answer depends on the context.

‘Resign in disgrace’

Reacting to the minutes of the meeting coming from Capitol Hill billionaire investor Bill Ackman, who has been very vocal about his stance on antisemitism on campuses, showed displeasure over university president's responses. “They must all resign in disgrace. If a CEO of one of our companies gave a similar answer, he or she would be toast within the hour,” he posted on X.

Harvard has been under scrutiny since Oct. 7, when dozens of student groups signed a letter holding Israel "entirely responsible for all unfolding violence," prompting widespread backlash.

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