Elite colleges scramble to backtrack after evading questions about antisemitism

  • Harvard, Penn, and MIT presidents are under fire over their testimony before Congress on antisemitism.

  • The college presidents faced calls for their resignations, including from Bill Ackman.

  • The presidents later issued statements that appeared to backtrack on their earlier testimony.

The presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT are backtracking on their congressional testimony Tuesday, which triggered widespread criticism.

In their testimony, the presidents evaded questions on whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated their institutions' codes of conduct.

"It can be, depending on the context," Harvard's president Claudine Gay said.

Sally Kornbluth, the president of MIT, said: "I have not heard calling for the genocide for Jews on our campus."

Penn President Elizabeth Magill said: "If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment."

Their answers were met with intense criticism, and billionaire Bill Ackman has even called for the three presidents to "resign in disgrace" following the hearing.

Magill later released a video around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, after an online uproar called the university's policies on free speech and harassment into question.

"In that moment, I was focused on our university's longstanding policies aligned with the US Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable," Magill said in the video. "I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It's evil — plain and simple."

Harvard's president, Claudine Gay, went further, saying, "There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students. Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account."

Kornbluth addressed the ongoing criticism in an open letter on Tuesday. In the letter, the MIT president echoed the sentiments of the school's faculty and shared an excerpt from their own letter to the MIT community.

"After these past weeks, I know many of you are exhausted and hurting. We have to make room for each other, in our hearts and in our daily lives," Kornbluth wrote. "We cannot and must not let events in the world drive us apart, or erode our respect for each other's humanity, or thwart the great mission we're here to pursue together."

Read the original article on Business Insider