College presidents at Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania are facing sharp backlash and calls for their resignations following their comments at a explosive congressional hearing about antisemitism on college campuses.
At the hearing, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, asked the three college presidents if calling for the genocide of Jews violated their campuses' codes of conduct.
“It can be, depending on the context,” Harvard President Claudine Gay answered. She added that “antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct. We do take action.”
Similar answers by UPenn President Liz Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth also fueled an uproar.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, denounced the responses and called for all three women to resign their posts. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff said the three presidents “lacked moral clarity” and cited the testimony as an example of why many Jews have felt "unmoored and afraid" in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.
Following the hearing, a U.S. House committee launched an investigation into campus safety at the three schools, wealthy donors started withholding funds, and a prominent rabbi resigned from Harvard’s antisemitism advisory committee.
On Friday, Gay apologized for her response in an interview with the Harvard Crimson, saying her testimony did not go far enough.
“I am sorry,” Gay said. “Words matter.”
She added: “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret.”
Gay added that she sought to use her congressional testimony to highlight efforts underway at Harvard to combat antisemitism.
At UPenn, a donor withdrew $100 million to protest the school's response to antisemitism on campus following Magill's testimony.
Magill also issued a video statement in response to the backlash, saying she regretted the limitations of her testimony.
“I was not focused on, but should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate,” she said. “It’s evil — plain and simple.”
She said the university’s longstanding policies need to be clarified and evaluated in light of the hate proliferating on campuses and across the world.
After the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced it would open an investigation into the three schools' learning environments, the executive committee at MIT issued a statement declaring Kornbluth had it’s “full and unreserved support.”
“She has done excellent work in leading our community, including in addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, all of which we reject utterly at MIT," it said.