Published On: Fri, Dec 8th, 2023

Universities Face Congressional Inquiry and Angry Donors Over Handling of Antisemitism

Universities Face Congressional Inquiry and Angry Donors Over Handling of Antisemitism
Universities Face Congressional Inquiry and Angry Donors Over Handling of Antisemitism


Harvard, M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday faced threats from donors, demands that their presidents resign and a congressional investigation as repercussions mounted over the universities’ responses to antisemitism on campus.

At Penn, university trustees discussed the future of Elizabeth Magill, its president, whose congressional testimony on Tuesday set off a furor when she dodged the question of whether she would discipline students for calling for the genocide of Jews.

Her answers and similar comments by Claudine Gay of Harvard and Sally Kornbluth of M.I.T. at a House committee meeting set off accusations that they were doing little to protect their own students. All three said they had taken action against antisemitism, but critics argued they had not done enough or were even fostering antisemitism on their campuses.

In response, a House committee opened an investigation into the three institutions as its chairwoman criticized the schools for failing to tackle the “rampant antisemitism” on their campuses after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza.

Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who leads the Committee on Education and the Workforce, said the inquiry would examine “the learning environments” at Harvard, M.I.T. and Penn, as well as disciplinary procedures. She warned that the panel would “not hesitate” to issue subpoenas.

“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,” Ms. Foxx said in a statement.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, said all three presidents should leave their posts. “You cannot call for the genocide of Jews, the genocide of any group of people, and not say that that’s harassment,” she told Fox News.

And Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, denounced the university leaders at the National Menorah Lighting in Washington.

“Seeing the presidents of some of our most elite universities literally unable to denounce calling for the genocide of Jews as antisemitic — that lack of moral clarity is simply unacceptable,” said Mr. Emhoff, who is Jewish.

For Ms. Magill, pressure has been building within Penn’s community, too. The advisory board at Wharton, Penn’s business school, told Ms. Magill in a letter this week that “the university requires new leadership with immediate effect.”

And the hedge fund manager Ross L. Stevens said that he would pull back a donation, worth approximately $100 million, to fund the Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance.

“Absent a change in leadership and values at Penn in the very near future,” he plans to rescind shares in Stone Ridge Holdings Group, he said in an email to his staff on Thursday.

“Mr. Stevens and Stone Ridge are appalled by the university’s stance on antisemitism on campus,” lawyers for Mr. Stevens wrote in a separate letter to the university’s general counsel informing her of his decision.

During an emergency meeting by telephone on Thursday, Penn’s board of trustees did not take a vote on whether to remove Ms. Magill, who had apologized earlier for her testimony. Instead, they pressed Ms. Magill and other leaders to express the university’s values with greater clarity. University officials did not respond to requests for interviews.

Gov. Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, a nonvoting member of Penn’s board, said on Thursday evening that he had urged the board to decide whether Ms. Magill’s testimony reflected the university’s values.

“I expect they’ll be meeting again in the coming days, and I expect them to carefully weigh that question,” he said, speaking to reporters after a visit to Penn Hillel, a Jewish campus group. “That’s a question for them to answer, not me.”

He said that Jewish students at Hillel told him that they did not feel support from the administration. Some of them said they did not feel supported by their professors, either, he said.

At M.I.T., the governing board issued a strong endorsement of Dr. Kornbluth’s leadership.

“She has done excellent work in leading our community, including in addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate,” the board said in a statement sent to all the university’s students, faculty and staff. “She has our full and unreserved support.”

Dr. Gay of Harvard issued a clarification on Wednesday: “Let me be clear: 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.”

But David Wolpe, a prominent rabbi, said the problems at Harvard ran deep and he resigned on Thursday from Harvard’s antisemitism advisory committee, formed after the Oct. 7 attack.

Rabbi Wolpe praised Dr. Gay as a “kind and thoughtful person,” in a social media post, and said most students were not prosecuting an ideological agenda. But he said that antisemitism was so entrenched that he did not think he could make the kind of difference he had hoped for.

“Part of the problem is a simple herd mentality — people screaming slogans whose meaning and implication they know nothing of, or not wishing to be disliked by taking an unpopular position,” he wrote.

Reporting was contributed by Annie Karni, Lauren Hirsch and Joel Wolfram. Kitty Bennett contributed research.


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