fb-pixelLeft with a dim view of congressional grilling of campus leaders Skip to main content
LETTERS

Left with a dim view of congressional grilling of campus leaders

Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, walked in the Capitol Dec. 12 in Washington.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

ACLU of Mass.: Elected officials should step back from path to censorship

We are at an inflection point when elected officials pressure university presidents to categorically silence student speech on core political issues. Calling for the genocide of any racial, religious, or ethnic group is abhorrent. But the line of questioning from some members of Congress misrepresented what is being said on campuses and is being used to exert pressure on universities to take positions contrary to constitutional free-expression protections.

Antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian, and anti-Arab threats or targeted harassment are not acceptable; all students deserve equal access to education, free from discrimination based on religion, race, and ethnicity. Schools have a responsibility to keep students protected from discrimination and violence as well as from censorship.

Advertisement



Yet students who protest by chanting political slogans such as “From the river to the sea,” which can be interpreted as anti-Israel or antisemitic, or “no cease-fire,” which can be interpreted as anti-Palestinian, are engaged in protected expression. On their own, such statements and similar phrases, while deeply hurtful to many people, do not constitute true threats or incitement to imminent unlawful conduct or otherwise fall outside the protections of our state and federal constitutions.

The freedom to criticize or encourage government action is the bedrock principle on which our country was founded. Once it becomes acceptable to silence such forms of political speech, the rights of everyone to speak and dissent are at risk, as is our very democracy.

Elected officials should step back from their dangerous march along the path of censorship. Higher education officials must be able to both protect free expression on campuses and speak out against expression with which they disagree.

Carol Rose

Executive director

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

Boston


Uproar over university presidents’ words has just been a lot of noise

As a graduate of Harvard University and Radcliffe College, an American Jewish woman who lost two relatives to the Holocaust, and a free-speech advocate who has studied the history of the Palestinian territories, Israel, and Zionism back into the 19th century, I support Harvard president Claudine Gay.

Advertisement



No Congress, not even in the era of Joseph McCarthy, had the chutzpah to haul in college presidents and use one hypocritical Republican mouthpiece to prevent three women campus leaders from delivering their full and considered statements. Shame on the Democrats who called for Gay’s resignation, shame on the Globe editorial board (“On antisemitism, university presidents needed moral clarity, not legal ambiguity,” Dec. 11) for decrying the presidents’ attempts at nuance under those circumstances as “a soup of muddled thinking,” and, sadly, shame on Jews who are using the power of their wealth to bludgeon the universities to punish these presidents. One good I see in this uproar is that some students themselves, better understanding the contexts, are coming together.

This is a moment when all attention should be focused on ending the massacre in Gaza, preventing this disaster from becoming a regional war, and bringing peace with justice to all so that the rancor of centuries may abate.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette

Newton


But the school leaders were right after all: Context does matter

Your editorial “On antisemitism, university presidents needed moral clarity, not legal ambiguity” rejected the “It depends on the context” responses by the three university presidents to the “bullying and posturing” line of questioning by Representative Elise Stefanik. Curiously, you then asserted, “These university presidents should be judged not solely on their immediate responses to hostile questioning before a national audience” but rather on how they adapt to what is, from your description, the existing and emerging “context.”

Advertisement



In the blinding light of hindsight, the answer to the “yes or no” question posed by Stefanik should have been “Yes, we categorically condemn the call for genocide, but no, we recognize the First Amendment right afforded by the US Constitution for such a statement to be made.”

In a word — or phrase — the correct response did (and does) “depend on the context.”

Malcolm McPherson

Belmont


Republicans are shocked! Shocked to find that antisemitism is going on.

I enjoy watching Republicans in Congress get all excited about supposed antisemitism at college campuses across the country. If they want to see antisemitism, they need look no further than the head of their party, Donald Trump. Trump is the man who had dinner with Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes, each of whom has made notoriously antisemitic statements. Trump supports Representative Matt Gaetz, a man who invited a Holocaust denier to the 2018 State of the Union speech. The hypocrisy of the GOP is stunning, almost as stunning as the fact that it looks as if the party is going to nominate Trump again.

Steve Knapp

Pawtucket, R.I.


Scrap the whole wretched university system, but not because of showboating congresspeople

I vehemently disagree with the way we educate and train our young people in this country, and I’d happily advocate for getting rid of all college and university trustees, presidents, deans, and most faculty if I thought it would lead to the replacement of the current rotten, debt-fueled system with free and excellent civic and career training for our citizens — with all the gristle of a wrongheaded educational philosophy cut away and tossed into the offal bucket where it belongs — but no one should lose their job because members of a tragically malfunctioning Congress want to showboat.

Advertisement



Zephyr Dorsey

Iowa City