In an apparent u-turn within 24 hours, the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and Harvard University presidents on Wednesday (7 November) issued statements clarifying their position after refusing to state unequivocally that calling for the genocide of Jews on campuses violates their harassment rules.
On Tuesday (6 November), the presidents of three top US universities - MIT, UPenn and Harvard - were grilled by a US Congressional committee for their responses to the rise of antisemitism on their respective campuses since the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel.
US Lawmakers asked the university presidents if calling for the genocide of Jews violated the institutions’ bullying and harassment policies.
The school presidents generally said the speech could be investigated if warranted, but it would be a "context-based" decision whether it violated the Universities' policies.
Following the hearing, social media users slammed the three presidents for their responses, with billionaire Bill Ackman calling for their resignations.
In a statement posted online after the controversy, Harvard President Claudine Gay said, "There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students".
"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," she said.
UPenn President Liz Magill also released a video following the hearing to clarify her Tuesday statements.
“In that moment, I was focused on our University’s long-standing policies, aligned with the US Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” Magill said in the video.
“I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate," she said.
“I want to be clear, a call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening—deeply so. It is intentionally meant to terrify a people who have been subjected to pogroms and hatred for centuries and were the victims of mass genocide in the Holocaust. In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation," she added.
She said UPenn and other universities should review and clarify their policies since hate is proliferating across campus “in a way not seen in years.”
Magill said she would immediately “convene a process” to take a “serious and careful” look at the university’s policies.
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