Presidents of MIT, PENN, and HARVARD: No Code of Conduct Violation for Calls to Genocide Jews

During a recent hearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the presidents of MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University faced questioning regarding their schools' code of conduct and how it applies to calls for the genocide of Jews. The presidents were asked whether such statements would violate their institutions' rules against bullying or harassment.

Sally Kornbluth of MIT responded that if the calls were not made publicly and were targeted at individuals, they would be investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe. Liz Magill of Penn agreed, stating that if the speech turned into conduct and was directed, severe, or pervasive, it could be considered harassment. However, she emphasized that the decision would depend on the context.

When pressed for a firmer answer, Magill reiterated that if the speech became conduct, it could be harassment. Harvard president Claudine Gay also acknowledged that such calls could be considered bullying or harassment, depending on the context. However, she did not provide a specific example of what that context might entail.

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York expressed her dissatisfaction with the responses, calling them "unacceptable answers across the board." Stefanik also questioned Gay about whether students who called for an "intifada" or used the phrase "from the river to the sea" would face punishment. Gay condemned the speech as "hateful, reckless, and offensive," but stated that it was protected by freedom of expression.

The exchange between the representatives and university presidents highlighted the challenge of defining and addressing hate speech on college campuses. While the presidents acknowledged that certain speech could amount to harassment depending on its conduct and severity, they also emphasized the importance of considering the context.

The hearing shed light on the ongoing debate surrounding freedom of speech versus the need to protect individuals from harmful and discriminatory rhetoric. As universities grapple with these issues, it remains to be seen how they will navigate the complexities of ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for all students while upholding the principles of free expression.


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