Pfizer CEO condemns Harvard, MIT, Penn presidents' Capitol Hill testimony - Hindustan Times
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‘I was ashamed,’ Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla condemns Harvard, MIT, Penn presidents' Capitol Hill testimony

BySumanti Sen
Dec 07, 2023 04:42 PM IST

“In my personal opinion, it was one of the most despicable moments in the history of U.S. academia,” Albert Bourla said

Charman and CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, has taken to X to call out the presidents of three top universities in the US for failing to condemn ati-Semitism on their campuses amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.The presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are under fire for their remarks during a recent testimony. The three presidents testified Tuesday, December 5, on Capitol Hill about increasing concerns of anti-Semitism on their campuses.

Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla speaks during the APEC CEO Summit, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in San Francisco (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)(AP)
Pfizer CEO Dr. Albert Bourla speaks during the APEC CEO Summit, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023, in San Francisco (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)(AP)

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 questioned by the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

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Out of everything the presidents said, they have been especially 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.

‘One of the most despicable moments in the history of U.S. academia’

“I was ashamed to hear the recent testimony of 3 top university presidents. In my personal opinion, it was one of the most despicable moments in the history of U.S. academia. The 3 Presidents were offered numerous opportunities to condemn racist, antisemitic, hate rhetoric and refused doing so hiding behind calls for “context”,” Bourla wrote. “The memories of my father’s parents, Abraham and Rachel Bourla, his brother David and his little sister Graciela, who all died in Auschwitz, came to mind. I was wondering if their deaths would have provided enough “context” to these presidents to condemn the Nazis' antisemitic propaganda.”

"And because dehumanization of the victims makes it easier to “set your own context” and justify anything, here is a picture of Graciela Bourla, who was exterminated in the concentration camp at the age of 17. Unfortunately, no pictures of my grandparents and uncle survived. I still wonder what they looked like,” he added.

Why are the university presidents under fire?

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. At one point, the presidents were asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” is against the universities’ respective codes of conduct.

“It is a context-dependent decision,” said Magill, to which Stefanik replied, “Calling for the genocide of Jews is dependent on the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill.”

Gay responded to the same question, saying, “When speech crosses into conduct, we take action.”

Kornbluth said that such language would be “investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.”

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