The presidents of three elite universities in the USA defended themselves at a hearing in the US Congress against accusations that they had not done enough to combat anti-Semitism on campus. The Republican-led Education Committee summoned the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on Tuesday. All three acknowledged anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents at their universities since the Islamist Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.
Republican Elise Stefanik in particular caused some sensational moments during the hearing. She asked, for example, whether the "call for genocide against the Jews" at universities violated guidelines on bullying and harassment. “That may be the case, depending on the context,” replied Harvard President Claudine Gay. Asked to answer “yes” or “no,” Gay again said it depends on the context. The other presidents made similar statements and emphasized that it depends on whether it is directed against an individual.
Gay also said elsewhere in the hearing: "These types of hateful, inconsiderate and offensive statements are personally abhorrent to me." But one is obliged to freedom of expression. This also applies to views “that are offensive, insulting and hateful”. What matters is when such statements transition into “behavior” that violates the guidelines. It has been made clear that any behavior that disrupts teaching and research efforts will not be tolerated. Stefanik, a Harvard graduate, had already called for Gay's resignation before the hearing.
Recently, the dispute over the conflict in the Middle East also erupted at universities and schools. US media reported incidents of physical violence or threats thereof. Anti-Semitic and racist graffiti appeared on school grounds. Videos circulating online showed young people tearing down posters with photos of the Hamas hostages. The US Department of Education had initiated investigations into anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents at US educational institutions - including Harvard, and the elite universities Columbia and Cornell.