How one hearing brought down two Ivy League presidents
Why it matters: The presidents faced immediate backlash for equivocating when pressed as to whether calls for violence against Jews violated their universities' codes of conduct, but the fallout is still continuing to snowball. Republicans who had demanded their resignations now say they aren't done yet.
- MIT President Sally Kornbluth is now the only president who testified at the Dec. 6 hearing who is still in her post.
The big picture: Universities across the U.S. are under the spotlight as they face difficult conversations and decisions on how to respond to the Israel-Hamas war and subsequent student protests, which have increased along with a surge in antisemitic and anti-Arab threats nationwide.
Gay, Magill and Kornbluth appeared before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce last month and defended their responses to incidents of antisemitism on their respective campuses.
- New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik's grilled the three university leaders and asked a yes/no question on whether "calling for the genocide of Jews" violated the schools' codes of conduct.
- The three leaders said in varying ways that the answer would be context specific, and related to whether speech turned into conduct.
The university presidents faced bipartisan criticism, including from the White House, and calls to resign.
- Donors threatened to pull major funding, influential alumni issued public calls for resignations, and petitions for their ousters garnered thousands of signatures.
- Shortly after her resignation, the chairman of Penn's board of trustees, Scott Bok, also resigned.
Zoom in: The pressure on Magill was driven in part by a viral clip from the hearing in which she said calls for genocide against Jews could violate the school's code of conduct "if the speech turns into conduct." When pressed further, she said, "it is a context-dependent decision."
Gay resigned on Jan. 2, making her tenure the shortest in Harvard history.
- The political scientist and Harvard's first Black president faced scrutiny for weeks after her testimony, but Harvard University's governing board initially expressed support for her.
- But allegations of plagiarism in her published work intensified the pressure.
What she's saying: "It has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual," she wrote in a letter to the campus community.
- Gay said she will return to Harvard's faculty.
Where MIT stands
MIT President Sally Kornbluth remains in her role.
- She has received shows of support from MIT deans, department heads and faculty leaders, and from the university's board.
- Yes, but several Republican lawmakers have signaled they want to see her resign next, with one saying: "Two down, one to go."
What to watch: Stefanik said Tuesday that this was "just the beginning" of the House committee's investigation into antisemitism at elite colleges.