Today the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT were summoned before a House committee for questioning about anti-semitism on their campuses. I haven’t watched the whole testimony, but this clip is getting a lot of attention. Elise Stefanik asks each president whether calling for genocide of the Jews would violate that school’s code of conduct with regard to bullying or harassment. None of the witnesses had a clear answer to the question:
Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying or harassment?
— Bill Ackman (@BillAckman) December 5, 2023
The presidents said that calling for genocide could be bullying or harassment, depending on the context. The required context was never made clear. There was a suggestion that a call for genocide would be bullying if directed toward a particular student or group of students, but given the universality implied by genocide, application to a particular individual might seem superfluous.
The presidents also said that it would be bullying or harassment if it turned into conduct. Like actually committing genocide? Stefanik asked. I have no idea what the presidents meant by this. Attempted murder? They didn’t say.
The presidents’ effort here was obviously to preserve their faux role as guardians of free speech–it’s OK if someone just says, in the abstract, that all Jews should be killed–while acknowledging that problems could ensue, like when actual Jewish MIT students had to seek refuge from a hostile mob in the library.
What is striking to me is how unintelligently these three academics answered Stefanik’s questions. There are actually some interesting issues here, which a smart and principled administrator could have spoken about in a compelling way. But these academic hacks had nothing insightful to say, and were just trying to get out of the hearing as fast as they could, smirking all the while. I would only add that a Harvard student who wrote that all blacks should be murdered–say, in a conservative student paper, if Harvard had one–would not have a future at that institution. There would be no discussion of “context.”
If there are still people who think we should defer to the views of academics because they are smarter than we are, this short video segment should help to disabuse them of that idea.
I may have more to say tomorrow if I have time to watch the entire testimony of these witnesses.