US House committee opens formal investigation into Penn, Harvard and MIT’s response to rising antisemitism News
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US House committee opens formal investigation into Penn, Harvard and MIT’s response to rising antisemitism

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce opened a formal investigation on Thursday into three of the US’s top universities’ and their responses to increasing antisemitism on campuses. The presidents of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology previously appeared before a congressional committee for a hearing on December 5. The three were subject to questioning from the House Education and Workforce Committee—which subsequently led to calls for the presidents to resign from their positions at their respective schools.

In Thursday’s announcement, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said:

The Committee is opening a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures. This investigation will include substantial document requests, and the Committee will not hesitate to utilize compulsory measures including subpoenas if a full response is not immediately forthcoming. 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.

On December 5, Claudine Gay of Harvard, Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, and Sally Kornbluth of MIT appeared for questioning before the committee. The three presidents answered questions about their schools’ free speech and anti-bullying policies, and how their administrations identify and respond to Title VI violations. Title VI, or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, provides for safe learning environments free from hostility or harassment.

Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) led the charge against the presidents. She asked each of the presidents in turn whether calls for a genocide against the Jewish people would violate university code conduct or rule regarding bullying and harassment. According to Gay, whether speech is actionable depends on whether it is accompanied by affirmative conduct. She emphasized that the principle of protection for free speech extends to speech that is “objectionable or outrageous.” Magill and Kornbluth said that antisemitism is not the only problem on campuses, as Islamophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric has been on the rise as well.

After the hearing, several representatives and major university donors began calling for the presidents to resign. The calls cited the presidents’ failure to definitively say that calling for genocide would violate university policy. In response, Magill put out a video clarifying her position in support of Jewish students. The other presidents released statements as well.

As the Israel-Hamas war continues, statistics on hate crimes show that Jewish and Muslim students are increasingly at risk of discrimination. Hillel International, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP have established the Campus Antisemitism Legal Line (CALL), a free legal protection helpline for students who have experienced antisemitism.