3 College Presidents to Address Congress on Increase in Antisemitism

Republican lawmakers have invited three college presidents to testify at a congressional hearing next week regarding how they have addressed an increase in antisemitic incidents on their campuses since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have agreed to testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday. These universities have faced backlash, student demonstrations, and alumni revolts since the war began.

The college presidents’ testimony in Washington, D.C., could have repercussions on their campuses. The hearing’s stated focus does not include discussing the Islamophobia issues that are also affecting colleges.

Faculty, administrators, and students at high-profile campuses have expressed a wide range of opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students and alumni have criticized administrators’ responses to protests and their approaches to student safety.

According to Nick Barley, the spokesperson for the House committee, the college presidents were invited and not subpoenaed. Their willingness to face tough questions from the GOP-led committee highlights the pressure on college leaders to address the growing climate of discrimination on campuses. The Education Department is actively investigating numerous schools, including Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, and the University of Tampa.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the Education Department has received multiple complaints related to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab sentiment. Investigations have been launched into incidents at New York City schools, Clark County, Nevada, public schools, Hillsborough County, Florida, public schools, and other universities.

Israel-Hamas protests have disrupted campuses, prompting federal investigations.

Instances of anti-Muslim harassment are also on the rise, which has become a major concern among many Democrats. In a potential hate crime, three college students of Palestinian descent were shot in Burlington, Vermont, while speaking Arabic. One of the victims, a student at Brown University, suffered a gunshot wound to the spine. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona reported an increase in complaints related to antisemitic and anti-Muslim harassment during the war as compared to the previous year. The Education Department has opened investigations into incidents like the one at the University of Pennsylvania, where administrators are accused of allowing the campus to become a “magnet for anti-Semites.”

The Israel-Hamas war is complicating the process of choosing a college.

Colleges must balance free speech and safety concerns

The upcoming hearing suggests a renewed emphasis by Republican leaders on specific aspects of the war. While some Democrats and younger voters are critical of conservatives for failing to address Palestinians’ rights, GOP lawmakers are frustrated with what they perceive as colleges allowing antisemitism to thrive.

In the early days of the conflict, there was a perception among alumni, faculty, and students at selective American colleges that administrators were slow to condemn Hamas’ attack on Israeli civilians. As campus protests escalated and allegations of discrimination gained attention, this perception worsened, leading to some donors cutting off financial support.

The universities now face significant questions about the balance between free speech on campus and prioritizing safety, as well as their own financial stability.

Antisemitism concerns at Harvard, MIT, UPenn

The Republican House Committee aims to shed light on the inner struggles of college administrators.

Representative Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina and chair of the committee, stated that the hearing intends to highlight instances of antisemitic demonstrations on college campuses and hold college administrators accountable for allowing such rhetoric to grow. On the other hand, Representative Bobby Scott, the ranking Democrat, praised the Biden administration’s efforts to protect college students from discrimination during a previous committee hearing.

University leaders eager for the opportunity to speak

Harvard’s President Claudine Gay is eager to update the committee on the university’s efforts to combat antisemitism and support the Harvard community. The University of Pennsylvania’s President Liz Magill believes in the critical importance of fighting antisemitism and other forms of hate on Penn’s campus. MIT’s President Sally Kornbluth is looking forward to engaging with the committee and welcomes the opportunity to speak.