In essence, these university presidents are saying: “We don’t condone anti-Semitism or genocide, but we also don’t oppose it because it depends on the context.” In what context is it OK to call for genocide against Jews or anyone else?
That the question was asked by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), one of the MAGAverse’s chief toadies, whose commitment to political expediency prompted her to abandon her principles and firmly attach herself to Trump’s vast rump, is beside the point. Even a broken clock is accurate twice a day.
To say that I was gobsmacked by their morally bankrupt response is an understatement. The complete absence of a moral center contained therein is unworthy of the leaders of these elite academic institutions.
During the entire congressional hearing, it was apparent that these three university presidents don’t have a clue about the First Amendment’s Free Speech clause. So let me reproduce it here:
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,….
The Supreme Court has extended the prohibition to government at all levels. Harvard, MIT and Penn are private entities. They have plenary authority to do whatever they want when it comes to abridging speech. A university has every right—and in cases like this I would say a duty—to punish people for inflammatory speech. As disgraced former President Trump and his followers demonstrate so often, it is a short distance from speech to action.
Caviling about “context” is no different than encouraging campus anti-Semites to turn hateful diatribes against Jews into action. By tolerating such comments, these university presidents are licensing their charges to go after Jews on campus and elsewhere.
Elise Stefanik’s “Yes” or “No” question to them was only a small snippet of what turned out to be a lengthy travail for the presidents, who did themselves no favors by their overall conduct during the hearing. Not only did they elevate freedom of speech above any other value; their facial and body language also spoke volumes. Discomfort and periodic smiles and smirks were evident, infused with sufficient intellectual arrogance.
The principal attribute for which University presidents are selected these days is their ability to raise money from wealthy alumni and both U.S. and foreign donors. Leadership qualities are secondary, if they are considered at all. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Harvard, MIT and Penn have received substantial gifts from Arab countries. Is it possible that, in the interest of keeping the pipeline flowing, these presidents hesitate to condemn anti-Semitism on their campuses?
If these are the values elite schools are imparting to their students, then parents everywhere should think twice about subjecting their children to them. It should take a long time for these institutions to recover from the reputational damage these leaders have inflicted on them. Ridding themselves of presidents without a moral compass should be step one on the road to recovery. They are an embarrassment to students, alumni and the nation.
Unfortunately, congressional hearings are not Socratic dialogues. Thus, the question was not asked: “Would a student or professor’s call for the reintroduction of slavery or genocide against African-Americans violate your institution’s code of conduct?” Substitute “women” or “Latinos” or some other group and one wonders if this too would depend on “context.” I think not. Jews have been singled out for special attention by racists for thousands of years. The undercurrent of anti-Semitism that appears to be a universal constant needs only a slight nudge to surface. Bigots everywhere should thank these university führers for providing it.
December 9, 2023