Seventy-four members of Congress on Friday signed a letter urging the governing boards of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania to fire their presidents as fallout continued from the campus leaders’ disastrous testimony during a House hearing on antisemitism Tuesday.
“Testimony provided by presidents of your institutions showed a complete absence of moral clarity and illuminated the problematic double standards and dehumanization of the Jewish communities that your university presidents enabled,” wrote the lawmakers. “We demand that your boards immediately remove each of these presidents from their positions and that you provide an actionable plan to ensure that Jewish and Israeli students, teachers, and faculty are safe on your campuses.
“Anything less than these steps will be seen as your endorsement of what Presidents Gay, Magill, and Kornbluth said to Congress and an act of complicity in their antisemitic posture. The world is watching—you can stand with your Jewish students and faculty, or you can choose the side of dangerous antisemitism.”
The highly unusual request from nearly one in five members of the House of Representatives—all but three of whom are Republican—carries no legal weight. But the lawmakers’ letter was the latest sign of how much the politics of the Israel-Hamas war have poisoned the political climate surrounding higher education.
The failure of the three college presidents to clearly say that calling for the genocide of Jewish people violated their campus policies quickly went viral on social media—galling alumni, free speech experts and advocates in the Jewish community alike. Pennsylvania’s governor, a Democrat, criticized Penn president Liz Magill’s testimony, and Claudine Gay, Harvard’s president, has also come under intense pressure from alumni and some students.
The lawmakers’ letter was led by Elise M. Stefanik, the Republican congresswoman from New York whose disbelieving questioning of the three presidents was the hearing’s seminal moment. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat from Florida, was the other lead co-signer.