Monday, May 27, 2024

During a congressional hearing on Tuesday, the leaders of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were asked about whether they would discipline students advocating for the genocide of Jews. The responses seemed evasive and carefully worded, leading to intense criticism and raising questions about who had prepared them for the testimony.

It was later revealed that WilmerHale, a prominent law firm, was involved in preparing two of the school presidents for the congressional testimony. Claudine Gay of Harvard and Elizabeth Magill of Penn had separate preparation sessions with WilmerHale teams.

WilmerHale also had a meeting with M.I.T.’s president, Sally Kornbluth as part of the preparation process, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Following the fallout from her congressional testimony, Elizabeth Magill resigned as Penn’s president on Saturday.

WilmerHale was established as a result of a merger between Wilmer Cutler Pickering of Washington and Hale and Dorr of Boston. With offices across the United States, Europe, and Asia, WilmerHale is well-known for its work with universities and clients involved in government investigations.

Lawyers from WilmerHale, including Alyssa DaCunha and Felicia Ellsworth, sat in the front row at the hearing and were involved in preparing the university presidents for the testimony. Both Harvard and Penn independently hired WilmerHale, who created separate teams to prepare each president.

Preparing for congressional testimony typically involves blending legal caution with political savvy and common sense, according to legal experts.

In the most charged moment of testimony, the response of the university presidents led to a flurry of criticism and investigations by a House committee.

According to critics, the answers from the university presidents were overly focused on whether the conduct would violate the First Amendment. Afterward, Dr. Gay of Harvard and Ms. Magill of Penn issued clarifications in response to the criticism.

Dr. Gay clarified her stance on calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, stating that they have no place at Harvard, and those threatening Jewish students will be held accountable. Ms. Magill acknowledged that she should have been more focused on addressing the issue of a call for genocide of the Jewish people.

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