House announces new probe of Harvard, MIT, and UPenn — By: Catholic News Agency

Rep. Virginia Foxx speaking on EWTN Pro-Life Weekly, May 30, 2019. / Credit: EWTN Pro-Life Weekly

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 8, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced the launch of a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Pennsylvania after the universities’ presidents refused to categorically condemn antisemitic calls for genocide at a congressional hearing earlier this week.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, told CNA that the investigation was being launched because of committee members’ “deep concerns” about the schools’ leadership and “their failure to take steps to provide Jewish students the safe learning environment they are due under law.” 

“The testimony we received earlier this week from Presidents [Claudine] Gay, [Liz] Magill, and [Sally] Kornbluth about the responses of Harvard, UPenn, and MIT to the rampant antisemitism displayed on their campuses by students and faculty was absolutely unacceptable,” said Foxx, who is Catholic.

Though the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania have since published statements walking back their congressional testimony, Foxx said that their statements in the House, and those of MIT president Kornbluth, evidence a dangerous learning environment for Jewish students. 

Despite their reversals, there are growing calls for the ouster of each university president, according to reporting by The Hill. Per Reuters, more than 70 U.S. lawmakers are currently demanding the three universities immediately remove their presidents.

“Given those institutional and personal failures, the committee is opening a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures,” Foxx told CNA. 

The veteran congresswoman explained that the committee’s investigation will include “substantial document requests,” and she said that the committee will “not hesitate to utilize compulsory measures including subpoenas if a full response is not immediately forthcoming.”

Foxx also said that Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania will not be the only universities that will be investigated. 

‘Other universities should expect investigations as well’

“The disgusting targeting and harassment of Jewish students is not limited to these institutions, and other universities should expect investigations as well, as their litany of similar failures has not gone unnoticed,” she emphasized. 

The probe comes after a dramatic rise in antisemitic hate speech and rallies in the U.S. in the wake of Israel’s war with the terrorist group Hamas. Universities in particular have recently become hotbeds for antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment that have included chants for the destruction of Israel and the removal of the Jewish people from the Holy Land. 

The university presidents’ statements that ultimately led to the investigation were given during a Tuesday hearing by the Education and Workforce Committee in which New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, also a Catholic, asked the school officials if they would unequivocally condemn calls for the genocide of Jews on their campuses.

In one exchange, University of Pennsylvania president Magill was asked if statements calling for the genocide of Jews constitute harassment on her campus, to which she replied that “it is a context-dependent decision” and “if the speech becomes conduct it can be harassment, yes.”

Magill also said that calls for the genocide of Jews “can be harassment” and “if it is directed and severe and pervasive it is harassment.” 

Magill’s comments caused significant outrage in response, with one major donor threatening to pull a $100 million donation from the school unless there is “a change in leadership and values at Penn in the very near future,” according to reporting by CBS News

Comments by Harvard president Gay and MIT president Kornbluth also caused outrage. 

Responding to whether calls for “global intifada,” which implies the elimination of the Jewish people worldwide, is allowed at Harvard, Gay said that though she finds that type of speech “personally abhorrent,” the school “embrace[s] 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, and intimidation.”

Kornbluth for her part said that calls for the genocide of Jews only constitute harassment at MIT “if targeted at individuals” but “not if making public statements.” 

Kornbluth also said that calls for intifada “can be antisemitic depending on the context when calling for the elimination of the Jewish people.” 

Kimberly Allen, a representative for MIT, responded to the investigation by telling CNA in a Friday statement that “MIT rejects antisemitism in all its forms.” 

“Antisemitism is real and rising in the world. We cannot let it poison our community. That is why MIT has stood up a campuswide initiative ‘Standing Against Hate’ to ensure that antisemitism has no place in our community,” Allen said.  

Regarding the congressional investigation being launched against MIT, Allen said that “as we continue to undertake this critical effort [to combat antisemitism], MIT will work with the committee to address its questions.”

Allen also shared a statement made by MIT’s governing board that said that Kornbluth “has done excellent work in leading our community, including in addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, which we reject utterly at MIT,” and that she “has our full and unreserved support.”

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