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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

GOP Representative Burgess Owens Criticizes College Presidents

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SALT LAKE CITY — Republican members of the House Education​ and‌ Workforce Committee criticized the presidents of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ⁢the ​University ‍of⁤ Pennsylvania on Tuesday over the universities’ efforts to address rising antisemitism⁣ on⁢ their campuses.

“Today, each of you will have a chance to answer to and atone for the⁣ many specific instances of ⁤vitriolic, hate-filled antisemitism ⁣on​ your ‌respective⁣ campuses that have denied students the safe learning environment,” ⁣said​ Committee chairwoman Rep. ​Virginia ‍Foxx, R-North Carolina, during Tuesday’s hearing in⁢ Washington.

“As you confront⁤ our ‌questions in this hearing, remember that you are not speaking to us, but to the students on your campus who have been threatened and ‌assaulted and who look to you to protect them,” she said.

The⁢ presidents, Harvard’s​ Claudine Gay, MIT’s Sally A. Kornbluth and Penn’s M. Elizabeth Magill, each acknowledged that‌ antisemitism was ‌a growing problem at their schools and society in‍ general.

They explained they have ‌stepped up campus security and taken action against anyone who harasses ⁤or ⁢discriminates against students, faculty or staff. While working to ensure safety, ⁤they are also protecting free ⁤speech.

“During these difficult days, I have felt the bonds ⁤of our community strain. In response, I have sought to confront hate‍ while preserving free expression. This is difficult work. And I know that I have not always gotten it right,” said Harvard’s Gay.

Penn’s ​Magill said she has “condemned antisemitism publicly, regularly and in the strongest possible terms.​ And today, let me reiterate⁣ my and Penn’s⁣ unyielding commitment to combating it.”

She continued, “As president, I am committed to a safe, secure and supportive educational environment so that our ⁤academic mission can ‍thrive. It is crucial that ideas are exchanged and diverse‌ viewpoints are‍ debated. ​As a student⁣ of constitutional democracy. I know that we need both ‍safety and free expression for universities and ultimately democracy to ​thrive in these times, these competing ⁤principles can be difficult to‍ balance, but I am determined ​to get it right.”

One critic of Penn’s actions is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who is‌ a Penn alum. Huntsman said the family’s Huntsman Foundation will‍ stop making‍ donations to the University of Pennsylvania over⁢ its lack of response to Hamas’ attack on Israel, this ‍despite several generations of the family graduating from Penn and ⁣their long history of philanthropy to the university.

MIT’s Kornbluth, meanwhile,‍ said MIT has launched a campuswide effort‍ to stand together against hate.

“It will emphasize ⁢both education and community‍ building, especially in ‍our residence halls. In addition to fighting ⁣antisemitism, it will address Islamophobia, which is also on the rise, and also underreported. MIT will take on both, not lumped together, but with⁤ equal energy, and in parallel,”​ Kornbluth ‌said.

Rep. Brandon Williams,⁣ R-New York, said⁤ the​ purpose of the committee hearing was to assess the ‌health of ‌the nation’s “most elite, and until recently, esteemed educational institutions in this country,” disclosing he earned a ‌graduate degree and spent a year at Harvard as a‍ visiting student.

“We raised the question whether your institutions and others like them deserve ‍to enjoy the benefits ‌of⁢ partnerships with our government” such as research investments, student loan guarantees, tax-free⁢ status for endowments and funding for veterans’ education totaling ​perhaps $100 billion, he said.

Williams noted that each⁤ of the ‌university presidents testified that education ​is the solution ⁤to push back⁤ against antisemitism.

“Yet your educational institution under your leadership ⁢and previous leaders is⁢ seething ⁣with ⁢hateful and threatening antisemitic demonstrations. But these are, only, as I mentioned, these are only against​ the​ Jewish students. ‍No one else, just‍ Jews at your ⁤school. Yet, you‌ say you ​believe in accountability,” said Williams directing his remarks to Gay.

“Should the federal government keep shoveling ⁣money and privilege to institutions like yours that fail so profoundly in ⁣their mission? Your mission is to educate. Education is the solution. You have 387 years and you’ve arrived at this place of ⁢virulent antisemitism and ​hate. Why should the ⁤federal government continue to partner with you and such a​ failed‍ accomplishment or lack of⁣ accomplishment?”

Meanwhile, Rep. Elise ⁣Stefanik, R-New York,‍ called for Gay’s resignation after an intense exchange on where the Harvard president draws the line between protected speech and incitement to violence, and whether she would ‍take disciplinary action against individuals who participated in rallies where there were calls for‌ an⁤ intifada, or a violent Palestinian uprising. Stefanik is a Harvard alumnus.

Gay said the university gives a ⁤wide berth to protected‌ speech, but ‌acts when rhetoric crosses into conduct that violates the school’s policies on harassment, bullying or intimidation.

Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, questioned what the ​academic leaders would do if it was determined that their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives⁢ and use of critical race theory in academic study were‌ linked to rising levels of antisemitism.

MIT’s Kornbluth pushed back. “I find it hard ⁢to understand how equity and inclusion as a concept is a hate inducer,” she said.

In a ⁤statement ⁢issued prior to Tuesday’s committee hearing, Burgess decried antisemitism, noting it⁤ “has no ⁢place in​ America, yet it⁤ has found‌ a home on our college⁣ campuses.”

He continued, “These institutions have failed‍ to fulfill their⁤ core ​responsibility⁢ of keeping students and ⁤staff safe⁣ by‌ allowing hate, harassment and violence toward the Jewish community to continue unabated.”

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, criticized the university presidents for not supporting ideological‌ diversity ‍on​ their campuses, and asked for⁢ figures on how ⁣many conservative faculty they employed.

“President ⁢McGill, what ‌is the⁢ percentage of conservative professors allowed to teach‍ at your institution?” Wilson queried.

“Representative, I strongly believe in a wide variety of⁣ perspectives. We do not track that information,” she said.

None of ⁤the presidents said they collected that information.

Wilson postulated that the ⁣lack of diversity and ‍”inclusion⁢ of‍ intellectual​ thought” was a contributing factor ​to⁣ rising antisemitism on‍ college campuses.

“It’s due ⁤to illiberalism that has taken over the country. You might look ‌into that and when ⁤you get your next government grant, with that in mind,⁣ the barbaric mass ​murder on ​Oct. 7 by Iran’s ⁢puppet invading Israel,” he said.

Late last ‌week, ‌Utah ⁣Gov.‌ Spencer Cox called on the state’s‌ public⁣ colleges and universities to exercise “institutional neutrality.”

It “may be a ‌little controversial, it should not be. …‌ This idea that every institution needs to weigh in on every political‍ debate of the day, it’s one of the dumbest things we’ve done over the last 10 or 20 years as a⁣ country,” he said

The governor’s remarks came following ⁤the ‍Utah ‍Board⁢ of Higher Education’s vote to adopt a resolution establishing ‌expectations for⁢ implementing principles​ of free expression on state-supported campuses.

In ‍addition to institutional⁢ neutrality, the resolution calls on colleges to protect a ‌speaker’s right to free expression‍ at approved events ‌or ⁢venues on campus⁣ and to provide a process for an⁤ institution​ to publicly​ address, ​condemn​ or‍ prohibit expression or actions that violate the law.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Disagree Owens raises valid points on college presidents, highlighting the need for accountability and transparency in higher education. It’s important to have open discussions to improve our education system.

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