Salovey breaks with peer University presidents’ indirect answers, updates response to hypothetical question from House antisemitism hearing
In a Thursday statement to the News, Yale President Peter Salovey updated his response to a question asked to three peer presidents during the Tuesday Congressional hearing on campus antisemitism; he suggested in his full answer that calls for genocide of the Jewish people would violate Yale’s policies. Salovey’s response is more forceful than those of the three other presidents, whose institutions are now facing a Congressional investigation into campus antisemitism.
Tim Tai, Staff Photographer
The presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have all faced criticism for evading direct responses to questions about disciplinary actions students would face if they called for the genocide of Jewish people, which they answered during testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce during a hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 5. According to CNN, Penn’s Board of Trustees chair Scott Bok is expected to talk to the university’s president, Liz Magill ’88, about stepping down from her role as president either this evening or Friday.
On Wednesday morning, one day after the hearing, the News posed similar questions to University President Peter Salovey — whether calls for the genocide of Jewish people violated the University’s policies on discrimination and harassment. Salovey initially responded by recommending that “everyone” read Yale’s conduct policies and saying that he planned to watch the hearing in full before answering the News’ question in full.
Salovey has since called such speech “harassing, intimidating, and discriminatory,” per a statement shared with the News around 1 p.m. on Thursday. He also said that he would “certainly expect” individuals culpable of such speech to be held accountable in accordance with the University’s policies against discrimination and harassment.
“In my opinion, if an individual stood on our campus and urged the committing of mass murder of Jews, it would have no intellectual or academic value, and is frankly hateful and worthless,” Salovey wrote. “The very idea of it is something I find outrageous, vile, and abhorrent. Such an act, in my view, would be harassing, intimidating, and discriminatory, so I would certainly expect that person to be held accountable under our policies prohibiting such conduct.”
The updated statement comes as the House committee that oversaw Tuesday’s Congressional hearing announced it was opening a formal investigation into Harvard, Penn and MIT over allegations of campus antisemitism on Thursday. In a statement the same day, committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx cited “institutional and personal failures” as grounds for the investigations and said that other institutions should also “expect” investigations “as their litany of similar features has not gone unnoticed.”
The Harvard Crimson broke the News of the investigation into Harvard, MIT and Penn also around 1 p.m. on Thursday; the House committee announced its investigation on X, formerly known as Twitter, at 2:19 p.m.
Salovey’s statement also follows a condemnation by the White House of the three presidents present at Tuesday’s hearing for evading the question.
“What was asked of other university leaders at recent Congressional hearings has raised questions about our policies and practices,” Salovey said. “Let me be clear in stating our forceful rejection of discrimination and prejudice at Yale.”
In response to Rep. Elise Stefanik’s question at the hearing, Claudine Gay, Magill and Sally Kornbluth — presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT, respectively — said that the situation was context-dependent. Magill said in her response that if speech “turns into conduct,” it would constitute bullying and harassment. Similarly, Gay said that if the speech were “targeted at an individual,” the speech would become “actionable conduct,” at which point Harvard would “take action.” Kornbluth said that although she was not aware of any extant calls for the genocide of Jews at MIT, speech “targeted at individuals” would be considered harassment but that making public statements would not.
When the News spoke to Salovey on Wednesday, one day after the hearing, Salovey recommended that “everyone” — “especially Yale College students” — read Yale’s conduct policies to determine where the line falls between a “speech act” and harassment, intimidation, menacing and stalking.” Salovey said that was all he could say at the time and that he planned to watch the full hearing.
“One thing that I can say off the bat is if a student went into the Slifka Center shouting genocide, I would call the police,” Salovey said on Wednesday. “If a student with an anti-Palestinian sign went up to a student who they believed was Palestinian and was in their face with that sign and harassing them, I would call the police.”
In a video statement shared by Penn on Tuesday after the hearing, Magill expanded on her initial response and said that calls for the genocide of Jewish people would constitute “harassment or intimidation” and announced that Penn would begin “a serious and careful look” at its policies. Gay also issued a Wednesday statement in which she condemned calls for violence against Jewish students, per a statement posted by Harvard on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Salovey broke from the other three presidents with his updated statement by suggesting that public statements, not just statements targeted at individuals, would violate Yale’s policies.
The current House Committee on Education and the Workforce was established on Jan. 9, 2023.
Correction, Dec. 7: This article has been updated to offer more specificity about University President Peter Salovey’s initial and updated responses.