Dec 7, 2023 - Politics & Policy

MIT, Harvard and Penn antisemitism testimony spurs GOP probe

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik. Photo: Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

A Republican-led House committee is launching an investigation into antisemitism at MIT, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and other elite colleges.

Why it matters: The probe is in response to congressional testimony from those colleges' presidents this week in which they they evaded questions about disciplinary action over calls for violence against Jews.

  • The testimony has been roundly condemned in the ensuing days by lawmakers in both parties, the White House, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, university donors and other observers.
  • Penn President Elizabeth Magill faces internal scrutiny for her testimony.

Driving the news: "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," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said in a statement.

  • Stefanik, who also serves as House Republican Conference chair, said the probe into the three colleges and others will have "the full force of subpoena power."
  • "We will use our full Congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage," she said.

The backdrop: During an Education and Workforce Committee hearing on Tuesday, Stefanik questioned the three presidents on whether "calling for the genocide of Jews," such as chants endorsing "intifada," warranted punishment under their schools' codes of conduct.

  • Each college president said it would depend on the context, with Harvard President Claudine Gay saying that chants she may find "personally abhorrent" may still be protected free speech.

What they're saying: In a statement on Thursday, MIT said it "rejects antisemitism in all its forms" and pointed to its "Standing Against Hate" initiative: "As we continue to undertake this critical effort, MIT will work with the Committee to address its questions."

  • In a video on Wednesday, Magill said she was "focused on our university's long-standing policies … which say that speech alone is not punishable," but said calls for genocide "would be harassment or intimidation" and that Penn's policies "need to be clarified and evaluated."
  • "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 social media.

The big picture: This isn't the only federal investigation underway related to antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses.

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