December 7th, 2023
By Hannah Grossman and Danielle Wallace
EXCLUSIVE: The House Committee on Education & the Workforce announced an investigation into Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT over “rampant antisemitism” following the testimony from the presidents of all three institutions, which was considered shocking by some critics.
Much of the blowback centered on a heated line of questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who repeatedly asked Tuesday whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate each university’s code of conduct. The presidents dodged, did not directly answer the question or claimed it did not violate their policies per se and it depended on context. The committee told Fox News that it was formally announcing an investigation into the universities after this “morally bankrupt” testimony.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, chair of the committee, told Fox News Digital that “the Committee is opening a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures. This investigation will include substantial document requests, and the Committee will not hesitate to utilize compulsory measures including subpoenas if a full response is not immediately forthcoming.”
“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, R-N.C., continued.
“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 said. “We will use our full Congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage.”
MIT PRESIDENT SALLY KORNBLUTH
During the hearing, MIT President Sally Kornbluth was asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates the private land-grant research university’s codes of conduct regarding bullying and harassment.
“If targeting individuals, not making public statements,” Kornbluth replied.
When asked again, Kornbluth said she had not heard calls for the genocide of Jews on campus.
“But you’ve heard chants for intifada,” Stefanik said, a reference to the Arabic word “uprising” or “shaking off.” The term has been used to describe periods of Palestinian resistance against Israel, often in the form of terrorism.
“We have heard chants which can be antisemitic depending on the context when calling for the elimination of the Jewish people,” Kornbluth said.
The MIT leader noted that such incidents would be investigated as harassment if found to be “pervasive and severe.”
HARVARD PRESIDENT CLAUDINE GAY
The question was then posed to Harvard President Claudine Gay, who also said it could depend on the “context” and if it targets specific individuals.
While Gay admitted that speech calling for intifada, and therefore genocide against the Jewish people in Israel and globally, was “at odds with the values of Harvard,” she deflected when pressed by Stefanik whether those sorts of remarks were against Harvard University’s code of conduct.
“We embrace a commitment to free expression, even of that are objectionable, offensive, hateful. It’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying,” Gay said. Stefanik pressed, “Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel? When you testify that you understand that is the definition of intifada, is that speech according to the code of conduct or not?”
“We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression, even of views that are objectionable,” Gay said in response.
UPENN PRESIDENT ELIZABETH MAGILL
UPenn President Elizabeth Magill was asked the same question. She told Congress that if the speech turned into conduct, it would be considered harassment.
Stefanik asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews violate[s] Penn’s rules or code of conduct? Yes or no?”
Magill responded, “If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. Yes.”
Stefanik said, “This is unacceptable. Ms. Magill, I’m going to give you one more opportunity for the world to see your answer. Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn’s code of conduct when it comes to bullying and harassment? Yes or no?”
“It can be harassment,” UPenn’s president said.
The comments shocked the nation, and two presidents subsequently released additional statements to add context and clarification.
“There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students. Let me be clear: 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,” Gay said in a statement posted to Harvard’s X account.
The University of Pennsylvania’s president released a statement that put the blame on existing policies in the institution.
“There was a moment during yesterday’s congressional hearing on antisemitism when I was asked if a call for the genocide of Jewish people on our campus would violate our policies. In that moment, I was focused on our University’s longstanding policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable. I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It’s evil — plain and simple,” she said.
“I want to be clear, a call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening… In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation… Penn must initiate a serious and careful look at our policies, and Provost Jackson and I will immediately convene a process to do so.”
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.”
“The disgusting targeting and harassment of Jewish students is not limited to these institutions, and other universities should expect investigations as well, as their litany of similar failures has not gone unnoticed,” she said.