Heads of Harvard, MIT, Penn chose their words far too carefully in addressing campus speech
Re “Attacked, college leaders defend campus speech: GOP lawmakers tie antisemitism to school cultures; presidents stress balance” (Page A1, Dec. 6): The response of the three university presidents Tuesday during the congressional hearing on antisemitism on campus was both predictable and beyond disappointing. Harvard University president Claudine Gay, MIT president Sally Kornbluth, and University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill all seemed highly coached by lawyers on what to say and what not to say, as if their hope was that this will all blow over and they can finesse their way out of it.
The general takeaway of their attitude was: There were a few regrettable incidents by overexuberant students exercising their right of free speech, but we do not see (and certainly would never acknowledge) any institutional or widespread issue with antisemitism on campus. We have policies and procedures in place, so don’t worry, we have it all under control. Can we go home now?
Where did all those ‘safe spaces’ go now that antisemitism is rampant?
As I read about the testimony by the three college presidents (”Attacked, college leaders defend campus speech”), I was struck by something. As an avid reader of the Globe and listener of public radio, I have spent the past several years being told that all sorts of words and phrases in common use are actually racist — or anti-trans, or otherwise prejudiced — dog whistles and may no longer be used. Why? Because a group deems them offensive. Anyone who dares use them is labeled anti-(fill in the group) and vilified. College leaders across the country have been right on the bandwagon, citing the need to provide safe spaces for the offended.
However, apparently that applies as long as the offended groups aren’t made up of Jews. Phrases such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “intifada” have a very specific meaning to them. College leaders and many members of the media know exactly what this meaning is and yet constantly strive to provide “context” to downplay its impact, even after an attack that exemplifies it. Suddenly the need is to protect the speech (and the speakers), not those threatened by it. A huge reversal. Why?
Rep. Stefanik asked the genocide question. Three school presidents each got an F.
As much as I’m not a fan of Republican Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, her questioning of the three university presidents elevated her somewhat. In a hearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, all three parsed their answers to her questions concerning the treatment of Jews at their respective schools. None could state unequivocally that calling for the genocide of Jews would necessarily violate their respective campuses’ rules of student conduct. More donors should reflect carefully when they consider contributions to these universities. Indeed, the boards overseeing these institutions should seek immediate dismissal of these presidents. Shame on them and the universities they represent.