News Update: US House Committee Launches Investigation Into Harvard, MIT, and Penn After Antisemitism HearingBy Joy Liwanag
On December 7, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce announced the commencement of an investigation into three prestigious universities-Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The committee expressed dissatisfaction with the universities' handling of antisemitism on their campuses in the aftermath of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. The investigation, prompted by concerns about the universities' response to the alleged rise in antisemitic incidents, may also extend to other institutions.
Context of the Investigation
The decision to scrutinize Harvard, Penn, and MIT follows a contentious hearing on Tuesday, during which university presidents faced questioning from Republican U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik. Lawmakers raised concerns about the universities' commitment to addressing antisemitism in the wake of the Hamas attack and subsequent Israeli counterattack on Gaza. The three university leaders-Claudine Gay of Harvard, Liz Magill of Penn, and Sally Kornbluth of MIT-were questioned about their institutions' learning environments and disciplinary policies.
Antisemitism in the Wake of the Hamas Attack
The October 7 attack and the ensuing conflict between Israel and Hamas have reverberated across U.S. college campuses, transforming them into arenas of heated protests. University leaders have faced criticism from both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian communities for their handling of student and faculty speech and conduct. The contentious nature of the issue was exemplified during the hearing, where representatives probed the presidents on whether certain forms of speech, such as "calling for the genocide of Jews," would violate their schools' codes of conduct.
University Responses and Reactions
In response to the investigation, MIT and Harvard issued statements rejecting antisemitism and expressing a willingness to cooperate with the committee. However, a representative for Penn did not immediately respond to the request for comment. The universities emphasized their commitment to fostering safe learning environments for all students.
The hearing on Tuesday sparked outrage among Jewish students and alumni, particularly regarding the presidents' responses to questions about the limits of free speech on campus. Video clips from the hearing circulated widely, intensifying calls for the resignations of Magill and Gay. Notably, Stone Ridge Asset Management founder and CEO Ross Stevens withdrew a substantial donation of nearly $100 million to Penn, citing the university's alleged inadequate response to on-campus antisemitism.
Committee Chairwoman's Critique
Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, a Republican leading the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, strongly criticized the university leaders' testimony as "absolutely unacceptable." Foxx expressed deep concerns about their leadership and perceived failure to ensure a safe learning environment for Jewish students, as required by law. The investigation, according to the committee's statement, will involve substantial document requests and may include subpoenas for information not readily provided by the universities.
As the investigation unfolds, the spotlight on Harvard, Penn, and MIT underscores the broader challenges faced by universities in navigating issues of free speech, campus safety, and combating discrimination. The outcome of this inquiry will likely have implications not only for the three universities under investigation but also for institutions nationwide as they grapple with the complex task of balancing the protection of free speech with the responsibility to ensure a secure and inclusive environment for all students.