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House OKs measure seeking university presidents’ ouster

Harvard, MIT leaders gave nuanced answers when asked about Jewish genocide at hearing

From left, Harvard University President Claudine Gay, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth testify before the House Education and the Workforce Committee on campus antisemitism on Dec. 5.
From left, Harvard University President Claudine Gay, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth testify before the House Education and the Workforce Committee on campus antisemitism on Dec. 5. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The House on Wednesday approved a resolution condemning antisemitism on college campuses and calling for the resignation of the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The measure was drafted by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., whose grilling of the leaders of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania set off a storm of criticism and led to the resignation of Penn’s President, Liz Magill. The resolution was also sponsored by Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R.-La., and two Jewish Democrats, Reps. Jared Moskowitz of Florida and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey.

Stefanik said a video clip of her exchange with the college presidents during the Dec. 5 hearing went viral because “their testimony was the most morally bankrupt testimony in the history of the United States Congress … We clearly have tremendous work ahead of us to address this rot of antisemitism that is now rooted in our once premier higher education institutions.”

Democrats speaking on the House floor Wednesday also criticized the university leaders’ comments, but said the House action was a stunt that would do nothing to battle antisemitism. 

The vote on the measure was 303-126 with three members, all Democrats, voting “present” and two not voting. Republicans voting were split 219-1, while Democrats were split 84-125.

[Transcript: What Harvard, MIT and Penn presidents said at antisemitism hearing]

During the hearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the three presidents were asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their institutions’ policies against bullying and harassment. Their carefully worded responses, couched in academic language that attempted to distinguish between speech and action, drew swift condemnation across the political spectrum, including from the White House.

During the hearing, Stefanik pressed the presidents on how they would respond to student protesters who express support for the intifada, an Arabic term that translates as “uprising” but is viewed by supporters of Israel as a call for the eradication of the Jewish state. They each responded that whether such chants constitute bullying or harassment depends on the context. 

“Condemning calls to incite violence against the world’s most persecuted ethnic group is always appropriate and never depends on context,’’ said Education and the Workforce Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C. “Holding smug university elites accountable never depends on the context.”

Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., said she was “appalled” by the responses given by Magill, Harvard’s Claudine Gay and MIT’s Sally Kornbluth, “but I have no interest in meaningless resolutions that do nothing to address the underlying issues of antisemitism.’’

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who called the college presidents’ response “ethically tone deaf,’’ said Congress has no place telling the leaders of private institutions that they ought to resign. 

Neither Gottheimer nor Moskowitz spoke about the resolution on the floor.

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