Investigation into Harvard and other elite universities launched over campus antisemitism

The school presidents’ equivocating sparked outrage across social media by numerous Jewish and non-Jewish leaders alike.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

The US House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Thursday announced a new investigation into top universities for what the group of federal lawmakers described as a failure to address surging antisemitism on their campuses.

The probe came two days after the committee grilled the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about their plans to respond to rising anti-Jewish hate in their communities. For nearly four hours, Claudine Gay of Harvard, Elizabeth Magill of Penn, and Sally Kornbluth of MIT largely evaded lawmakers’ questions, even equivocating on whether calling for the genocide of Jews contravened school rules.

“In front of the world, the presidents of our so-called top universities stated that calling for the genocide of Jews is fair game under their codes of conduct. Gay/Magill/Kornbluth’s shocking testimony proves that the problem starts at the top,” the committee announced on X/Twitter on Thursday. “The committee 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.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a Harvard alumnus and member of the House committee, told the Harvard Crimson that the purpose of the investigation is to ensure these schools and others are held accountable.

“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 to the campus newspaper. “We will use our full congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage.”

During Tuesday’s hearing, all three presidents gave indirect answers when asked by Stefanik whether calling for the genocide of Jews constituted bullying and harassment and violated their codes of conduct. Stefanik referenced the chanting of slogans such as “globalize the intifada,” “there is only one solution, intifada revolution,” and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”— all widely interpreted as calls for violence against Jews and the destruction of Israel.

“We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful — it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, and intimidation,” Gay said, refusing to provide a definitive answer.

“Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel?” Stefanik asked, visibly disturbed by Gay’s answer.

“We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression even of views that are objectionable, outrageous, and offensive,” Gay responded. She also said that calls implying the genocide of Jews and Israelis “can be [considered bullying or harassment] depending on the context.”

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Magill had a similar exchange with Stefanik.

“It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman,” the Penn president said. “If the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment, yes.”

“Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide?” Stefanik asked. “The speech is not harassment? This is unacceptable Ms. Magill.”

The school presidents’ equivocating sparked outrage across social media, with Jewish leaders and non-Jewish allies lambasting the administrators and calling for them to resign.

“You refused to state that calling for the genocide of the Jewish people would violate Harvard policies,” Harvard Law School alumnus Ben Badejo wrote in a letter to Gay that was posted on X/Twitter. “In so doing, you betrayed the most fundamental values of our country and of all decent people.”

The chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust, similarly blasted the university presidents, comparing antisemitism on US college campuses to a cancer that is getting worse.

On Wednesday, Gay clarified her comments, saying: “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.”

Magill also sought to minimize the damage.

“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s longstanding policies aligned with the US Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” she said in a video posted on X/Twitter. “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.”

Gay told the Harvard Crimson on Thursday that while Harvard has not received official notice of an investigation from the committee, the university would comply with one.

US college campuses have experienced an alarming spike in antisemitic incidents — including demonstrations calling for Israel’s destruction and the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students — since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. Elite universities — including Harvard, Penn, and MIT — have been among the biggest hubs of such activity, with students and faculty both demonizing Israel and rationalizing the Hamas atrocities.

Incidents of harassment and even violence against Jewish students have also increased. As a result, Jewish students have expressed feeling unsafe and unprotected on campuses. In some cases, Jewish communities on campuses have been forced to endure threats of rape and mass slaughter.