Thursday, May 23, 2024

On Tuesday, the presidents of three leading American universities — Claudine Gay of Harvard, Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania — were at the center of a contentious congressional hearing on antisemitism on college campuses.

In one of the most notable exchanges, the leaders of the schools were pressed on whether they discipline students calling for the genocide of Jews. Their responses — “It is a context-dependent decision,” Ms. Magill answered at one point — drew widespread criticism.

But the administrators faced a barrage of other pointed questions at the hearing of the House Education and Workforce Committee, mainly from Republicans, who adopted a prosecutorial tone as they pushed for more definitive answers.

Here are some of those exchanges:

On chants for intifada on Harvard’s campus

In one instance, Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, pressed Ms. Gay over whether the university condoned chants of “intifada” on its campus.

Stefanik: Dr. Gay, a Harvard student calling for the mass murder of African Americans is not protected free speech at Harvard, correct?

Gay: Our commitment to free speech …

Stefanik: It’s a yes or no question. Is that correct? Is that OK for students to call for the mass murder of African Americans at Harvard? Is that protected free speech?

Gay: Our commitment to free speech …

Stefanik: It’s a yes or no question. Let me ask you this: You are president of Harvard, so I assume you are familiar with the term “intifada,” correct?

Gay: I have heard that term, yes.

Stefanik: And you understand that the use of the term “intifada” in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict is indeed a call for violent armed resistance against the State of Israel, including violence and the genocide of Jews. Are you aware of that?

Gay: That type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me.

Stefanik: And there have been multiple marches at Harvard with students chanting, quote “There is only one solution: intifada, revolution” and quote “Globalize the intifada,” is that correct?

Gay: I’ve heard that thoughtless, reckless and hateful language on our campus, yes.

Stefanik: So based upon your testimony, you understand that this call for intifada is to commit genocide against the Jewish people in Israel and globally, correct?

Gay: I will say again, that type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me.

Stefanik: Do you believe that type of hateful speech is contrary to Harvard’s Code of Conduct or is it allowed at Harvard?

Gay: It is at odds with the values of Harvard.

Stefanik: Can you not say here that it is against the Code of Conduct at Harvard?

Gay: 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, intimidation…
Stefanik: Does that speech not cross that barrier? Does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel? You testified that you understand that that is the definition of “intifada.” Is that speech according to the Code of Conduct or not?

Gay: We embrace a commitment to free expression, and give a wide berth to free expression even of views that are objectionable, outrageous and offensive.

Stefanik: You and I both know that that is not the case.

On a Palestinian writers festival at Penn

Since the Hamas attack in Israel, tempers have been particularly high at the University of Pennsylvania, where the campus was already up in arms over a recent Palestinian literary conference. The conference included speakers like Roger Waters, of the band Pink Floyd, who was invited to attend in person, but appeared by video. Mr. Waters has been criticized by the State Department for a history of using antisemitic tropes. Mr. Waters has supported Palestinian causes, but denies being antisemitic.

On Tuesday, Representative Jim Banks, Republican of Indiana, pressed Ms. Magill on whether the university had been consistent in its free speech policies. He began by asking her about why the university’s leadership did not stop the festival’s organizers from inviting Mr. Waters.

Banks: Why in the world would you host someone like that on your college campus to speak at the so-called Palestinian Rights Literature Festival?

Magill: I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this. Antisemitism has no place at Penn.

Banks: Why did you invite Roger Waters? What did you think you would get out of that?

Magill: Antisemitism has no place at Penn, and our free speech policies are guided by the United States Constitution.

Banks: Why did you invite Roger Waters?

Magill: Antisemitism does not have a place at Penn.

Banks: Do you condemn what Roger Waters stands for?

Magill: Congressman, prior to the event, I issued a statement calling out the antisemitism of some of the speakers at that conference.

Banks: Specifically Roger Waters, yes or no?

Magill: Roger Waters was among them.

Banks: So you specifically called out a guy who floated pig balloons with a Star of David at his concerts? I haven’t seen the condemnation, I’m going to go look for it after this hearing and I hope I can find that well-recorded condemnation from you.

Magill: I did call out the antisemitism of some of the speakers at a conference that had more than 100 people.

Banks: In the aftermath of the Palestinian Rights Festival, you and your board chairman wrote a memo outlining Penn’s free speech policies and you said, quote, “Penn does not regulate the content of speech or symbolic behavior,” you wrote, including speech, quote “incompatible with the school’s values.” And you went on to say Penn does not have a policy against hate speech because, quote, “defining and policing robust debate, even with respect to the most disturbing issues, is unwise.” That’s what you wrote.

But in 2013, Penn canceled now Prime Minister Modi’s scheduled keynote address at a Wharton-hosted economic forum in the face of opposition from Indian American professors. And for the past year the administration sought to punish Amy Wax, a tenured law professor, for her stance on D.E.I. and identity issues, and then you canceled an event with former ICE director Tom Homan due to disruptive student protests simply because he worked for former President Donald Trump.

Ms. Magill, the fact is that Penn regulates speech but that it doesn’t like. Everyone gets this, no one more than the faculty and students who know exactly where the lines are that they are OK to cross. Why did Penn let Prof. Ahmad Almallah off the hook, who led to hundreds of students in chanting, “There’s only one solution: intifada revolution”? Why does that professor still have a job at your university?

Magill: Representative, our approach to speech is as I identified, it follows and is guided by the United States Constitution, which allows for robust perspectives. I disagree with the characterization that we treat speech differently, and I can’t discuss any individual disciplinary procedure.

On flying Ukraine’s flag, but not Israel’s

Representative Stefanik also tried to draw out Dr. Gay of Harvard on what she implied was an inconsistency when it comes to showing support for foreign nations.

Stefanik: Dr. Gay, did anyone contact you about flying the Israeli flag over Harvard Yard?

Gay: Yes.

Stefanik: And the decision was made not to allow the flag to be flown over Harvard Yard?

Gay: It’s been standard protocol at the university for years to only fly the American flag unless we have a visiting dignitary.

Stefanik: So the decision was made to allow the Ukraine flag to be flown over Harvard Yard?

Gay: That was a decision made by my predecessor as an exception to a longstanding rule.

Stefanik: So it was an exception. So you made an exception for the Ukrainian flag, but not the — the university made an exception for the Ukrainian flag but not the Israeli flag.

Gay: That was a choice made by my predecessor.

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