A recent congressional hearing on antisemitism, featuring the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn, has sparked a significant controversy. The responses given by Presidents Gay, Magill, and Kornbluth to a critical question about genocide and university conduct codes have raised alarms about the moral compass guiding some of America's elite educational institutions.
Testimony Raises Eyebrows
Under oath, Representatives asked the university presidents if calling for the genocide of Jews violates their institutions' codes of conduct regarding bullying or harassment. The answers, which suggested that the acceptability of such calls 'depends on the context' and hinges on whether the speech turns into actual conduct, have been widely criticized.
This position implies that only actions, not words advocating genocide, would breach university policies. "We do not sanction individuals for their political views or their speech. When that speech crosses into conduct that violates our behavior based policies, bullying, harassment and intimidation, we take action," Gay said.
Representative Elise Stefanik, taken aback by these responses, repeated the question multiple times, only to receive the same answer. This loop of questioning and answering underscored a worrying perspective on the severity of hate speech against Jews.
"I strongly believe that 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," Kornbluth said. "Yet as president of MIT, in addition to my duties to keep the campus safe and to maintain the functioning of this national asset, I must at the same time, ensure that we protect speech and viewpoint diversity for everyone," she said.
A Question of Leadership and Moral Judgment
The presidents' testimony has been described as reflecting a deep-seated educational, moral, and ethical failure within some of the most revered academic institutions in the United States.
The implication that leaders of such stature might view genocide as context-dependent is alarming, particularly given their role in shaping young minds. Critics argue that if a CEO of a major company offered similar responses, they would face immediate consequences.
This situation raises questions about the standards to which academic leaders are held, especially in light of increasing antisemitism on campuses and globally. The hearing also highlighted the contrasting conduct of congressional leaders, who were praised for their leadership, moral clarity, and respectful manner during the proceedings.
The behavior of the university presidents, described as akin to hostile witnesses, displayed an apparent disdain for the process, marked by evasive answers and a lack of straightforward responses.