Debate is ongoing on college campuses over antisemitism amid protests over the Israel-Hamas war and how university officials should balance allegations of hate with academic freedom. At Harvard, university President Claudine Gay is working to move past the controversy after receiving the backing last week of the school's top governing board amid calls to resign. The campus is still tense with persistent calls for Gay to step down after her testimony before federal lawmakers, where she gave ambiguous answers about whether calls for genocide against Jews violate university policy.

Harvard Law professor and New Yorker contributor Jeannie Suk Gersen, who is among a large group of faculty that have urged the school not to push Gay out of office, joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-host to discuss the issues. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Jeremy Siegel: So you just penned a commentary looking at how this whole situation, is in a way, at odds with Gay's work at the university towards diversity of thought and academic freedom. Gay is still very new to her post at Harvard. Beyond this whole situation that Harvard's been totally embroiled in for the past few weeks, what should we know about who Gay is as a president?

Prof. Jeannie Suk Gersen: Well, it is true that President Gay, before she was president, when she was dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, had a reputation for valuing diversity, equity and inclusion. And the thing is that right now, there are many people who believe that diversity, equity and inclusion, DEI, is something that we should be looking at really carefully and scrutinizing and wondering if that has been the root of many problems. I, for one, do not think that the answer is get rid of DEI and therefore everything will improve. I think that that's foolish and unwise. But I do think that there are many who think that's why we've had the crisis that we've had, that we've gone so far down the road toward valuing diversity, equity and inclusion that we've lost sight of larger values.

For example, the idea that calling for the genocide of Jews, that it's a context-dependent decision whether it violates the school rules. That was the question that she was asked by [Rep.] Elise Stefanik and that people thought that she had trouble answering. But the honest-to-God truth is that that has nothing to do with diversity and equity and inclusion.

Siegel: Let's talk a little bit more about that. You mentioned the comments by Congresswoman Stefanik during the congressional hearing, which is what led for all of the calls for Gay to resign. You've argued in your story that these hearings were McCarthyesque and that they have the potential to be harmful for academic freedom. Explain that perspective.

Suk Gersen: Well, I found it quite McCarthyesque the way that the questions were framed. They were obviously not asked in good faith. They were obviously done in order to basically ambush the presidents into answering. She kept saying yes or no, yes or no. You know, if it's yes, then they're in trouble. If it's no, they're in trouble. That was very clear. The idea that the president of Harvard University was asked in a congressional hearing whether she believes in Israel's right to exist, you know, first of all, that's an inappropriate question when it comes to Congress, asking a university president that's neither here nor there in terms of her competence and her leadership of the university.

And then to ask a question that's very direct, like does calling for the genocide of Jews violate policies against bullying and harassment? Those are very precise policies that Harvard University has put forth in ways that are designed explicitly to be speech-protective. And so the idea that when asked a specific question about specific policies, when answering those questions correctly, then everyone goes crazy. You know, this is a McCarthyite phenomenon. I think that if she had said something like, obviously calling for the genocide of Jews is abhorrent and unacceptable, but if you're asking me specifically about bullying and harassment policy at Harvard, I will tell you that the policy is, in fact, something that is very tightly drawn.

Siegel: Well, Professor, before I let you go, I wanted to ask, because I'm sure there are many who do think that these answers are relevant to what a university president is doing, is there any way for a school like Harvard or universities more broadly to move past this whole controversy?

Suk Gersen: I think that there has to be an announcement or a feeling of a hard restart, so that people can get on the same page, or at least know that the university has certain values that it will affirm. Obviously, the university must stand against hate, and the university must also stand very strongly in favor of academic freedom and free speech. Both of those things are possible, but they're not going to be a perfect solution for everyone, in that people are not going to feel satisfied about the balance between free speech and other values, including diversity, equity and inclusion. It's not going to be a perfect balance for everyone. At the same time, everyone on campus must be treated equally.

And so it's a project that is always going to have a lot of critics. And there's never going to be one answer that in a stable way satisfies all people. But the main issue is that everyone needs to be treated equally. And the idea that Harvard has been hypocritical in valuing some groups over other groups, that has to be addressed and it has to be acknowledged, and then we can move on in the embrace of values like academic freedom and diversity.

Siegel: Jeannie Suk Gersen is a professor at Harvard Law School and contributor to The New Yorker. Professor, thank you.

Suk Gersen: Thank you.

Siegel: You're listening to GBH News.