Yale Daily News

The Presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology testified before a panel at a Tuesday congressional hearing by the Committee on Education and the Workforce titled “Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism.”

Absent from the committee was University President Peter Salovey, who told the News on Wednesday that he is unsure why Yale was not asked to participate in the hearing. He told the News in a Nov. 3 interview that he believed “the outside world” could see that the University’s students were “inclined to behave civilly toward each other.” 

Members of the committee questioned Harvard President Claudine Gay, Penn President Liz Magill ’88 and MIT President Sally Kornbluth. Magill assumed her role on July 1, 2022, and both Gay and Kornbluth have been in the role for less than a year. All three presidents have come under scrutiny in recent days for their responses to a series of questions about antisemitism members posed during the hearing.

When asked if “calling for the genocide of Jews” violated their instition’s code of conduct during the hearing, none of the presidents gave a yes or no answer. When the News posed a similar question to Salovey, he said that he would first like to watch the entire testimony.

“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. “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.”

Following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, colleges and universities across the country have erupted in debate over the war. Tensions on these campuses related to the Israel-Hamas war have increased alongside rising reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia. 

Yale has not been exempt from this national trend. Over 1,500 alumni, parents and faculty signed onto a Nov. 20 letter urging the Yale administration to combat antisemitism on campus. Following the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Vermont on Nov. 25, Palestinian and Muslim students at Yale also expressed concerns about their safety. 

“In some ways students and others on campus are treating each other more respectfully and more civilly than we’re seeing elsewhere,” Salovey told the News. “There is still a challenge with various kinds of hatreds and prejudices, that we even can see at Yale that includes but isn’t limited to antisemitism and islamophobia sentiment.”

During the hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik asked the three university presidents if calling for the genocide of Jewish individuals violated their universities’ policies on bullying and harrassment.

In response to a question regarding whether a student openly calling for the genocide of Jews without directing such statements at a particular individual, Salovey pointed the News to Yale’s Woodward report. A 1974 report commissioned by then-President Kingman Brewster ’41, it has guided the University’s policies on freedom of expression since Yale’s adoption of the report in 1975.

Salovey also said that “everyone,” but “especially Yale College students,” should read Yale’s policies on conduct to “work hard to figure out” where the line falls between a “speech act” and harassment,  intimidation, menacing and stalking.

“That’s all I can say now,” he said. “I do want to watch [the hearing].”

In the day following the hearing, Presidents Gay and Magill have added onto their initial responses to the question posed by Rep. Stefanik.

Harvard issued a statement from President Gay on its official X account — formerly known as Twitter — in which she said that any calls for violence against Jewish students or any religious or ethnic group are “vile.” She added that “those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”

In a video posted to Penn’s X account, President Magill also addressed her response to Rep. Stefanik’s question at the hearing.

“In that moment, I was focused on our University’s long-standing policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” Magill said. “I was not focused on, but I should’ve 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.”

At the hearing, all three presidents ultimately said that their answer to Rep. Stefanik’s question is context-dependent.

Will Creely, legal director at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, told The New York Times that all three presidents were “legally correct” for saying the situation Stefanik suggested would be dependent upon context.

He also told the Times that it was frustrating “to see them discover free speech scruples while under fire at a congressional hearing.”

Salovey added that while Ivy League presidents only coordinate on making athletic policies guiding Ivy League sports, they “do share observations.”

“The Ivy League presidents have always met on a somewhat regular basis,” he said. “Ideally, presidents are talking about the way their campuses have responded to the Hamas-Israel or to the Hamas atrocities on October 7.”

The current House Committee on Education and the Workforce was established on Jan. 9, 2023.

Update, Dec. 7: An updated response from University President Peter Salovey is discussed here.

Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.