Perhaps you saw it. Perhaps you did not. One could easily make the case for the need to know.
Last week the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania appeared before the House Education Committee. We all know Congress can become a bit of a “gotcha hotbed.” Hence, it’s important that we pay attention to what was actually said.
The college presidents were specifically asked about chants on campus crying “intifada,” the contemporary Arab term that has evolved to mean intentional violence toward and the elimination of Jews, wherever their control and presence exists.
They were each asked, “Does that speech not cross that barrier, does that speech not call for the genocide of Jews and the elimination of Israel? Is that speech according to the code of conduct or not?”
Note the responses of those who lead some of America’s perceived finest academic institutions…
Said Dr. Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard, ”We embrace a commitment to free expression and give a wide berth to free expression, even views that are objectionable.”
Added Ms. Liz Magill, the president of UPenn, “It is a context-dependent decision.”
And lastly, Dr. Sally Kornbluth, the president of MIT, said, “That would be investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.”
The questioning continued for some time. The three consistently deflected and deferred. (While I’m not an alumnus of any of the above, I wondered if the university leaders missed the wisdom embedded in a “yes” or “no” response, that is, that most of us learned in elementary.)
None of the three would unequivocally state that calls for genocide — whether it be elimination of the Jews or the also added “mass murder of African Americans” — were against their code of conduct. I’ll say it again; these represent our supposed finest educational institutions in the land.
The backlash has been universally, bipartisanly strong. Said White House spokesperson Andrew Bates in the immediate negative aftermath, “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country. Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans.”
Seemingly realizing that their dodging was disastrous, especially noting the immediate loss or threat of loss of donors, the presidents themselves have been busied with backtracking. Legal speak has said they were “over-prepared” or “over-lawyered” or as the UPenn board chair said of Pres. Magill, “She was not herself last Tuesday.” Said Magill herself in a no doubt carefully crafted video statement, “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. It’s evil, plain and simple.” Magill would resign by the end of the week.
Friends, today’s post isn’t about the current conflict in Israel, a conflict, sadly, that’s been raging for years. Today’s question is about what colleges are teaching our kids. Are we supposed to believe that these educational institutions are still so fine?
What’s the goal of the university? …
Are they preparing students for their professional future?
Do they have other agendas?
Are they attempting to politicize?
Maybe even skew the thinking of what is known to be right and wrong?
I’ve long thought the current college trajectory was unsustainable, but that was mostly due to exponentially rising costs. Hence, I understand the desire for loan forgiveness even though that unfairly helps some at the expense of others, each who made intentional choices leading to their specific scenario. I’m uncomfortable with the indubitable unjustness of that approach.
However, I now increasingly wonder whether the current college trajectory is unsustainable because of what they teach, because of how they lead, and because of what they advocate for. The bottom line, grossly evident before Congress last week, is that it is unclear whether college teaches what is good and right and true. Our teaching is prompted by what we acknowledge and what we value.
At the very least, therefore, it seems we need to immediately change the definition as to what we perceive as “fine.”