Updated: December 5, 2023, at 3:50 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Harvard President Claudine Gay finished delivering her opening statement at the House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about antisemitism on college campuses.
Gay began testifying alongside MIT President Sally A. Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill before a full committee hearing at 10:15 a.m.
Gay began her address by thanking the Committee for “calling this hearing on the critical topic of antisemitism” and acknowledging the “deeply concerning rise in antisemitism” on Harvard’s campus.
Still, Gay said her focus at Harvard has been to “confront hate” while also “preserving free expression.”
“This is difficult work, and I know that I have not always gotten it right,” Gay said.
Gay also used her opening statement to outline efforts Harvard has undertaken to ensure the security of students on campus by increasing security measures, providing additional mental health services, and condemning speech that incites violence.
Gay concluded her remarks by firmly rejecting antisemitism and reaffirming the University’s commitment to efforts to combat it.
“Harvard must model what it means to preserve free expression while combating prejudice and preserving the security of our community,” Gay said. “We are undertaking that hard, long-term work with the attention and intensity it requires.”
Tuesday’s hearing comes nearly two months after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. In the weeks since, college campuses across the country have been bitterly divided over the fighting in Israel and Gaza and university presidents have struggled to thread the needle on the issue.
Rep. Virginia A. Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, concluded the hearing by praising the Jewish students in attendance as “heroes.”
“Presidents Gay, Magill, and Kornbluth: You have real and important practical challenges. These are real students sitting here, and they need to be protected,” Foxx said. “It is fashionable among too many members of your campus communities to hate Jews.”
Foxx said the three presidents must be “willing to risk your job to speak truth clearly, consistently, and apologetically.”
“We will now be watching, and I genuinely hope for the sake of our nation you will rise to meet the challenge,” she added.
Foxx then gaveled the hearing to an end.
“Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment?” Stefanik repeatedly asked the witnesses.
All three presidents attempted to bring nuance into their answers as Stefanik continued to push for a yes or no response.
Magill said that “if the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment.”
Stefanik aggressively took issue with Magill’s reference to conduct and asked whether such actions would mean “committing the act of genocide.”
Kornbluth acknowledged that she’s “heard chants” on campus, but said that they only may be “antisemitic depending on the context.”
“Antisemitic speech when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct and we do take action,” Gay said.
Answering the same question, Gay said that whether speech qualifies as harassment at Harvard “depends on the context.”
“It does not depend on the context — the answer is yes,” Stefanik said to Gay.
“This is why you should resign,” Stefanik added. “These are unacceptable answers across the board.”
Rep. Brandon M. Williams (R-N.Y.) used his five minutes to ask Gay why the federal government should continue to provide funding for research at Harvard if it is a place of rampant antisemitism.
Williams asked Gay how long she has been president of the University and questioned why Harvard’s endowment and nearly 400 years of history have not been sufficient time and money to meet its educational mission.
“Should the federal government keep shoveling money and privilege to institutions like yours that fail so profoundly in their mission?” Williams asked. “You have 387 years, and you’ve arrived at this place of virulent antisemitism and hate.”
As Gay attempted to answer his question, Williams laughed and cut her off.
Williams also levied the same questions and criticisms at Magill and said he was “ashamed” to be an alumnus of the university.
Rep. Eric W. Burlison (R-Miss.) asked the university presidents whether they have taken steps to ban or de-recognize Students for Justice in Palestine chapters on their campuses.
Harvard does not have a SJP chapter on its campuses, but there are several pro-Palestine student groups across the University.
“We do not punish students for their views,” Gay said. “We hold them accountable for their conduct and behavior, and any conduct that violates our rules against bullying, harassment or intimidation, we take action.”
“I’m concerned about students who don’t feel safe and welcome on our campus and wanting to make sure and I want to make sure that they receive all the support that they need,” Gay said.
Magill said UPenn — which does have an SJP chapter — has “similar policies” to Harvard, and “any organized student group must comply with the rules of the university.”
“If they have violated those rules, they can be non-recognized,” Magill said.
Kornbluth said though there are students at MIT aligned with pro-Palestine movements, she is not aware of an official SJP chapter at the university.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about antisemitism on college campuses is set to resume soon.
Gay just returned to the main hearing room and took her seat next to the three other witnesses.
The hearing should last for approximately another 45 minutes.
U.S. Rep. Aaron P. Bean (R-Fla.) began his five minutes of questioning by stating that the university presidents serving as the majority’s witnesses have testified that they value free speech and are striving to create a safe environment for students on campus.
“The evidence doesn’t support your testimony,” Bean said.
Bean also accused pro-Palestine groups on college campuses of only serving to “harass and intimidate Jewish students into retreating from campus life.”
“So, here’s your chance to tell America who’s gotten fired, what organizations you’ve kicked off your campus,” Bean said.
The witnesses remained silent as Bean then also criticized the presidents for being unfamiliar with the ideological makeup of their faculty, citing The Crimson’s 2023 annual survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in which more than 77 percent of surveyed Harvard faculty identified as “liberal” or “very liberal.”
President Claudine Gay said she received a request to fly the Israeli flag in Harvard Yard but that her administration did not grant it, in response to questioning from Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.).
“It’s been standard protocol at the University for years to only fly the American flag unless we have a visiting dignitary,” Gay said.
Stefanik then asked Gay about the decision to fly the Ukrainian flag over Harvard Yard last year, after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Though Gay said this decision was one made by her predecessor, former Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, she acknowledged that it was an “exception to a long-standing rule.”
Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) questioned Gay about Harvard’s disciplinary actions toward international students who may have threatened Jewish students.
Miller asked whether Gay has expelled any “foreign students for threatening the Jewish students.”
Gay responded that “our international students are an enormous source of pride for Harvard and part of our strength as an institution.”
“We hold those students accountable to the same set of disciplinary processes that we hold all of our students accountable to,” Gay said.
Miller took Gay’s response to be a confirmation that Harvard has not expelled any students.
“I’m assuming your nonanswer is an answer to the students,” Miller said. “They now know you have not expelled any foreign students for threatening the Jewish students.”
Miller also accused UPenn of violating Title IX by allowing transgender students to compete in athletic competitions.
Specifically, Miller asked Magill whether it’s appropriate to “force young women to change in the locker room with biological men against their will?”
Magill referenced rules of competition set forth by the NCAA and said UPenn allows all students who comply with those guidelines to compete for the university.
Rep. Kathy E. Manning ’78 (D-NC) condemned the exclusion and intimidation of Jewish students on college campuses.
“Will you commit to doing everything necessary to keep Jewish students and faculty safe and able to participate in the full range of Harvard’s learning experience?” Manning asked.
“The short answer is yes,” Gay said.
Manning also asked Gay about what the University is doing to educate its affiliates about “false accusations that Israel is a racist settler colonial state.”
Gay said that Harvard hosts events with faculty and outside speakers who can “provide more insight into the nature of the conflict and the way forward.”
“Obviously, we have more work to do and that’s part of how we're going to eradicate antisemitism,” Gay added.
Lisa C. McClain (R-Mich.) asked about the occupation of University Hall by nine students affiliated with Harvard Jews for Palestine last month and whether the University has disciplined the students who participated in the protest.
McClain asked why two Harvard deans provided the students participating in the protest with food instead of disciplining them.
“I can assure you that we have very strong disciplinary processes,” Gay said. “We have disciplinary processes underway.”
The Crimson previously reported that the eight students who participated in the protest are facing disciplinary hearings under the Harvard College Administrative Board. A ninth student is facing a hearing under the equivalent body at the Harvard Divinity School.
McClain also told Magill she would be submitting questions for the record about the “outbreaks of antisemitism” at UPenn, including vandalism of Penn Hillel and a spray-painted swastika found in the university’s school of design.
“I would encourage you to give the answers,” McClain said. “We deserve answers. People deserve answers, not rhetoric.”
Rep. Michelle E. Steel (R-Calif.) asked the presidents about the influence of donors on colleges and universities.
“Were any of these donations conditioned on the inclusion of a pro-Palestinian curriculum?” Steel asked.
Magill said UPenn accepts “nothing that is inconsistent with our mission of teaching, research, and service, and we would never accept conditions on gifts.”
“My understanding is we have taken no government gifts from the Government of Qatar,” Magill said.
Gay also said that donors do not have influence over “how we run the University” and “how we keep our students safe” as a result of their philanthropy.
Harvard has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education over foreign funding since February 2020.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.) argued that antisemitism is a greater problem than Islamophobia on college campuses across the United States, during his five minutes of questioning.
Good asked Magill whether she is aware of any large-scale protests at the University of Pennsylvania calling for the “slaughter of Muslims or the elimination of an Arab or predominately Muslim state.”
Magill responded that she was not aware of any such events.
Good said that it would then be “dishonest” and “wrong to suggest that antisemitism and Islamophobia are equivalent problems in this country.”
Good then asked Gay whether Harvard teaches antisemitism in classes and why Congress should continue to fund the University when it violates Title VI and fosters a “hostile environment for Jewish students.”
Gay said Harvard is committed to ensuring that students “thrive” and feel “safe and secure.”
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) criticized the university presidents over what he characterized as other forms of discrimination on their campuses.
Owens asked Gay whether it was okay to “segregate people based on color.”
“I oppose segregation,” Gay said.
“It’s happening on your campus,” Owens retorted, referring to Harvard’s affinity group graduation ceremonies during Commencement week each spring.
Owens also asked Kornbluth about student housing on MIT’s campus, referencing its Chocolate City residency where, Owens said, “whites are excluded.” The University’s residence website calls the residency “a brotherhood” for students who “identify with urban culture and share common backgrounds, interests, ethnicities, and/or experiences.”
Kornbluth explained that MIT students are allowed to select which dorm to affiliate with.
“It’s not exclusionary,” Kornbluth said. “It’s actually positive selection by students.”
Owens then asked the president to clarify whether diversity and inclusion initiatives on college campuses had ties to “Marxist, BLM, Antifa hate groups.”
Kornbluth said she finds it “hard to understand how equity and inclusion as a concept is a hatred inducer.”
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Penn.) asked Magill whether actions were taken at UPenn to shut down a pro-Palestine protest that occurred over the weekend.
Magill said that while the Philadelphia police were present at the demonstration, their presence was to ensure that “there was no incitement to violence and no violence” and not to take action in shutting down the event.
Wild then asked Magill, “Would you agree that your, in this case, Jewish students, undoubtedly, felt very uncomfortable?”
Magill said she was “sure that’s true.”
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) also grilled Magill for allowing Roger Waters — a frontman for Pink Floyd who formerly flew pig balloons with the Star of David during concerts and has been accused of antisemitism — to be hosted on UPenn’s campus while other speakers’ visits have been canceled.
“The fact is that Penn regulates speech that it doesn’t like,” Banks said.
Magill said that UPenn’s approach to speech is “guided by the United States Constitution, which allows for robust perspectives.”
“I disagree with the characterization that we treat speech differently,” she said.
Banks was not satisfied with Magill’s answer.
“You’re speaking out of both sides of your mouth,” Banks said. “You create a safe haven for this type of antisemitic behavior.”
Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) also asked Magill about UPenn’s decision to host the Palestine Writes Festival in September.
Magill said thousands of speakers are hosted on UPenn’s campus every year, many of whom she personally disagrees with.
“I don’t cancel or censor them in advance of their arrival to campus,” she said.
“We are, of course, always concerned about safety and security, so that could be a constraint,” Magill added. “Our approach is not to censor based on the content but to worry about things like the safety and security and the time, place, and manner in which the event would occur.”
Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) aggressively questioned Harvard President Claudine Gay, raising her voice as she used the entirety of her five minutes to grill Gay on whether the use of pro-Palestine slogans — such as “from the river to the sea” and chants like “intifada, intifada” — on Harvard’s campus constitute antisemitic hate speech.
Gay said that she has heard “that type of reckless and hateful language” on Harvard’s campus.
“That type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me,” Gay said.
Stefanik continued to push Gay to give a concrete answer as to whether such speech violates Harvard’s code of conduct.
Though Gay did not directly answer, she said that “it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies.”
Harvard Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 watched the exchange, seated directly behind Gay in the committee hearing room.
Stefanik concluded her questioning by demanding Gay’s resignation while looking Harvard’s 30th president in the eyes.
“This is why I’ve called for your resignation, and your testimony today, not being able to answer with more clarity, speaks volumes,” Stefanik said.
Rep. Mark A. Takano ’83 (D-Calif.) asked Gay “in what world” a call for violence against Jewish people would qualify as free speech and to provide context on the University’s delayed response to the Oct. 7 attack.
In response, Gay provided context on her efforts to support Jewish students and affiliates prior to the University’s initial statement in the aftermath of Hamas’ attack on Israel.
“From the moment I learned of the attacks on Oct. 7, I was focused on action to ensure that our students were supported and safe,” Gay said.
“On that first day, we were focused on identifying whether we had any students or faculty who were in Israel and needed our assistance, including in getting out,” Gay added.
Gay also emphasized her continued support of Jewish students, faculty, and affiliates, including attending a solidarity dinner at Harvard Hillel on Oct. 8 “to be there in support, and also to learn more what their needs were.”
Takano also asked the university presidents whether they consider themselves to be experts on antisemitism.
“No, I don’t,” Gay said. “But I know this: that antisemitism is hate or suspicion of Jews.”
“That is all I need to know to take action to address it on our campus,” Gay added.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) asked the presidents what percentage of their professors are politically conservative.
All three presidents said their universities did not track that data, which Wilson called “so sadly and shamefully revealing.”
“There’s no diversity and inclusion of intellectual thought, and the result of that is antisemitism,” Wilson said.
In The Crimson’s 2023 annual survey of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, more than 77 percent of surveyed Harvard faculty identified as “liberal” or “very liberal.”
Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) asked Magill whether UPenn provides each enrolled student with resources on the history of antisemitism and how students can report instances of antisemitic incidents on campus.
Magill said UPenn is “committed” to “making certain that all anti-bigotry efforts ensure education about antisemitism.”
Thompson asked whether UPenn affiliates arrested for demonstrating would be required to undergo additional education on antisemitic behavior, which Magill requested to later follow up with his team on.
Magill also reiterated UPenn’s longstanding position in opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
Members of Congress have begun questioning the witnesses. Each committee member will have five minutes to ask questions.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, started the questioning by asking the university presidents about how their practices for hiring faculty and developing curriculum contributed to the current climate on their campuses.
Gay said Harvard dedicates significant resources to “training our faculty in that pedagogical skill and then prioritizing that in our recruiting and hiring.”
Foxx also asked the university presidents whether they believe Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish nation.
“I agree that the state of Israel has a right to exist,” Gay said. The presidents of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania also offered affirmative responses.
Alongside Gay, MIT President Sally A. Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill have also delivered their opening statements.
All three presidents firmly denounced antisemitism on their campuses, using their opening statements to overview the steps each university has taken to combat hate on their campuses — including increased campus security and renewed efforts toward education and dialogue.
They were joined by Pamela S. Nadell — a lecturer on Jewish history at American University and former president of the Association for Jewish Studies — who deplored the continued presence of antisemitism on college campuses.
Directly outside of the committee chamber door, pro-Palestine demonstrators holding up palms painted red were met by pro-Israel members of the public who confronted them and criticized their support of Palestine.
Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) called again for Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation during a press conference on Tuesday hosted by House Republican leadership ahead of Gay’s congressional testimony.
“I continue to demand Harvard President Claudine Gay resign,” Stefanik said.
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, also spoke at the press conference and criticized universities across the country for not doing more to combat antisemitism.
“Universities quick to facilitate the spread of antisemitism are now slow to condemn it,” Foxx said.
“The best time for college presidents to have stood up for their Jewish students was October 7. That did not happen,” Foxx added. “The second best time is today.”
As the pre-hearing press conferences begin, former Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers took to X yet again to criticize the Harvard administration over its handling of campus tensions.
“Harvard Corporation and Administration, despite much public and private advice, are failing in their core obligation to create a safe environment conducive to learning and free expression for all students,” Summers wrote.
In particular, Summers took aim at the University’s lack of response to the “week of action” organized by pro-Palestine groups on campus, which included a walkout in support of Gaza on Wednesday.
“When multiple classes are disrupted by students with megaphones and there is no strong and visible condemnation and discipline, the administration is not doing its job,” he added.
Summers was among the chief critics of Harvard’s initial response to the Oct. 7 attack, slamming the University for its delay in issuing a statement condemning Hamas and supporting Israel.
Harvard presidents have long observed a tacit understanding of not publicly criticizing their successors’ administrations — a practice that Summers has repeatedly broken with in recent months over the University’s handling of the situation on campus.
Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment on Summers’ post on X, instead referring back to a statement by College administrators following the protests.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh, and Dean of Students Thomas Dunne wrote to students about the University’s policies last Friday reiterating the school’s policies on disruptive protests.
“These rules are crucial as they foster open dialogue and freedom of speech, essential conditions for exploring diverse perspectives, seeking truth, and creating a better world,” the administrators wrote. “We remain committed to supporting free speech; these rights are reaffirmed in the FAS Free Speech Guidelines.”
Before the hearing, Jewish students will hold a pair of dueling press conferences at 10 a.m.
House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) will host a press conference in the Capitol with Republican House leadership and Jewish students from Harvard Law School, the University of Pennsylvania, MIT, and New York University.
At the same time, a coalition of pro-Palestine Jewish students and allies — including members of Harvard Jews for Palestine — will host a presser to “share their perspectives while the Congressional Committee on Education and the Workforce simultaneously holds its hearing,” according to a press release announcing the event.
Nearly three weeks ago, Harvard Jews for Palestine staged a 24-hour occupation of University Hall to demand the University call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, provide increased support for pro-Palestine student activists, and issue a statement distinguishing anti-Zionism from antisemitism.
The students involved in the protest later faced disciplinary hearings over their occupation of University Hall. The topic of protests on college campuses and policies surrounding protests is expected to feature heavily during the hearing.
More than 100 Harvard professors signed onto an open letter Monday calling for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
The letter, signed by more than 950 academics from institutions of higher education across New England, was addressed to the 12 senators that represent the region’s six states.
“Together, we are writing you to call for a permanent ceasefire in Israel-Palestine; an end to Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip; and an enduring political resolution between Israelis and Palestinians based on international law and the principles of justice, equality, and dignity for all,” the letter stated.
“It should not have taken the recent shooting of three Palestinian students in Vermont—two of whom are studying at New England colleges—to remind us that care and vigilance must be exercised for all threatened communities and not just some,” the letter added. “Protecting our Jewish and Arab students, our Palestinian and Israeli students, is not a zero-sum endeavor.”
Some of the Harvard professors who signed onto Monday’s letter included History and African and African American Studies professor Vincent A. Brown, Comparative Literature associate professor Saul Noam Zaritt, and Lauren Kaminsky, the director of studies for History and Literature.
Officials in Washington are increasingly paying attention to the bitter divisions at universities across the country over the fighting in Israel and Gaza.
The letters came one day before the congressional hearing about antisemitism on college campuses where Gay is scheduled to testify. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education opened a civil rights investigation into Harvard following a complaint alleging instances of antisemitism on its campus.
—Staff writer Nia L. Orakwue is reporting from Washington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on X @nia_orakwue.
—Staff writer Claire Yuan is reporting from Cambridge. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on X @claireyuan33.