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MIT board declares ‘full and unreserved support’ for university president

Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth spoke during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

In a statement issued Thursday evening, MIT’s governing board declared its “full and unreserved support” for university president Sally Kornbluth and underscored the school’s rejection of “antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate.”

The pledge comes two days after a fiery congressional hearing over campus antisemitism provoked furor and sparked calls for the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania to resign.

Kornbluth joined the other two university leaders at the hearing in Washington at which Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, wanted to know, yes or no, if “calling for the genocide of Jews” violated university codes of conduct.

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The university presidents’ indirect and ambiguous responses incited scathing criticism.

MIT’s executive committee said it stands by Kornbluth.

“The MIT Corporation chose Sally to be our president for her outstanding academic leadership, her judgment, her integrity, her moral compass, and her ability to unite our community around MIT’s core values,” the statement from the committee said. “She has done excellent work in leading our community, including in addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate, which we reject utterly at MIT. She has our full and unreserved support.”

The exchange between Stefanik and the three university presidents came late in a hearing over the rise in campus antisemitism since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people. Israel’s retaliatory war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has killed more than 15,000 people and prompted large student protests.

“At MIT, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate MIT’s code of conduct or rule regarding bullying or harassment, yes or no?” Stefanik asked Kornbluth.

Kornbluth responded: “If targeted at individuals, not making public statements.”

“Yes or no? Calling for the genocide of Jews does not constitute bullying or harassment?” Stefanik said.

Kornbluth seemed to challenge the question’s premise, saying she had “not heard calling for the genocide for Jews on our campus.” She added that she was aware of chants at MIT that “can be antisemitic, depending on the context when calling for the elimination of the Jewish people.”

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Harvard president Claudine Gay, said it would depend “on the context.”

Gay said that such speech would violate Harvard’s policies if it was “targeted at an individual.” She added that “antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct. We do take action.”

UPenn president Liz Magill answered: “If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment, yes.”

Magill issued a video statement Wednesday evening that seemed to backtrack, saying that in her view, a call for genocide of Jewish people “would be harassment or intimidation.”

Magill’s response prompted the university’s board of trustees to hold an emergency meeting Thursday.

A spokesperson for UPenn said there is no immediate plan for the board to replace Magill, CNN reported.

Gay, who faced sharp criticism from a Jewish campus group, among others, issued a statement Wednesday expanding on her testimony.

“There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students,” she said. “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.”

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Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her @talanez.