Washington, D.C. — In case you missed it, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik spoke with The New York Sun following her line of questioning at the House Education and the Workforce Committee Hearing with campus presidents from Harvard, MIT, and UPenn demanding accountability for their role enabling antisemitism on campus.
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Ms. Stefanik says the university leaders cannot stay in power after failing to call genocidal language against Jewish students bullying or harassment.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, fresh from her confrontation in a hearing with the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT, is declaring that higher education is at a “watershed moment” and predicts it will be difficult for the three university leaders to remain in their jobs after dodging the questions that her committee asked them early this week.
In conversation with the Sun by telephone, Ms. Stefanik, who is a Harvard alumna and the fourth-ranking House Republican, predicted that a probe into the universities, announced by the House on Thursday, will lead to their presidents’ terminations. By her count, Harvard president Claudine Gay gave shifting and irresolute answers to her now-viral query from the Tuesday hearing — if calling for the genocide of Jews constitutes bullying and harassment in violation of the school’s code of conduct — 17 times.
The mounting fight against Harvard could be as significant as the epic lawsuit brought on by the group, Students for Fair Admissions, challenging racial preferences — and discrimination against Asians — in the school’s admissions policies. Harvard belittled that suit when it began but eventually lost by a six to two margin in the Supreme Court — Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself — on the basis of violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The university is likely now aware that it is not above the law and is in dangerous legal waters.
“This is a watershed moment. There will be tectonic consequences of this hearing, and it will be an earthquake in higher education,” Ms. Stefanik tells the Sun. “My fear,” she says, “is that when we conduct this investigation, what we are going to uncover is antisemitism very deep in these institutions of higher learning, some of which were founded, in Harvard’s case, before the founding of our country.”
It is unclear what the Constitutional contours of the coming clash will be, as it is not the job of Congress to determine individual guilt. Yet it is clear that Ms. Stefanik, who serves as the House Republican Conference Chairwoman, is not comfortable with university leaders standing by while Jewish students on their campuses are being physically assaulted in the library, hiding their identities in the classroom, and threatened genocide across the quad.
“Unrecognizable,” “shameful,” and “heartbreaking:” that’s how Ms. Stefanik describes Harvard, from where she graduated in 2006 and served as vice president of the school’s Institute of Politics. While the Ivy League institution was founded on the pursuit of truth, or Veritas, it and other top universities “have drifted so, so far from that,” she says, “in their effort to appease the radical far left.”
Ms. Stefanik predicts that all three of the presidents will be fired after repeatedly failing to answer her question, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying or harassment?” She says that “the world knows what the right thing is, and that is they need to fire the president. They need to fire any professor, any department head, who cannot answer that question correctly.”
What the footage of Ms. Stefanik’s line of questioning that went viral does not show is that throughout the course of the five-hour hearing, she asked Ms. Gay that question 17 times, “and she failed 17 times,” she says. “Yes it was combative, because as anyone asking that question would be, I was appalled by the answers.” Recalling the “smugness” the trio of leaders displayed before Congress, she said, “they didn’t realize what they were saying was so, so wrong.”
Several Jewish university students who were in the audience at Capitol Hill appeared visibly distressed by the university presidents’ inability to call rhetoric supporting genocide bullying or harassment. “You could see how shaken up they were,” recounts Ms. Stefanik. “They were physically shaking, listening to the answers of those questions.”
The House Education and the Workforce Committee, which convened the hearing on Tuesday, will now investigate the schools, says chairwoman Virginia Foxx, using the “full force of subpoena power.” The board of advisors at Penn’s business school has called on the university president, Liz Magill, to immediately step down. Famed hedge fund manager and Harvard alumnus, Bill Ackman, says that all three leaders now “must resign in disgrace.”
Ms. Gay issued a statement on Wednesday in an attempt to quell the national outrage at her testimony. “Let me be clear,” she said, “calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group, are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.” On Thursday, Ms. Gay went further, telling the Harvard Crimson she was “sorry” and that “words matter.”
Ms. Magill of Penn has also attempted to backpedal her remarks at Capitol Hill, where she said that the decision to punish blatant antisemitism depends on the “context” and would only violate the school’s code of conduct “if the speech turns into conduct.” On Wednesday, she said in a statement that such behavior, “in my view,” does indeed constitute “harassment or intimidation.”
Asked by the Sun about the coming House inquiry, MIT’s spokeswoman, Kimberly Allen, says that “MIT rejects antisemitism in all its forms. Antisemitism is real and rising in the world. We cannot let it poison our community.” The university, she says, “will work with the Committee to address its questions.”
The chairman of the MIT Corporation, the venture capitalist Mark Gorenberg, said in a statement Thursday that he “and the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation entirely support President Kornbluth.” The press offices of Harvard and Penn did not respond to the Sun’s requests for comment.
The statements this week from university leaders are mere “PR cover-ups,” says Ms. Stefanik. “No amount of cleaning up is going to make up for their responses under oath.”
More than one billion people are said to have viewed the hearing on Tuesday, making it “the most viewed congressional testimony in the history of the United States Congress,” says Ms. Stefanik. “The reason was the pathetic answers by the three university presidents, who will be former university presidents pretty soon here.”
Calls to hold the heads of Harvard, Penn, and MIT accountable are garnering praise from both Republicans and Democrats. “This is beyond politics,” Ms. Stefanik asserts. “This is an issue of moral clarity.”
Ms. Koch graduated in 2023 from Harvard College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student weekly, the Harvard Independent. She reports on issues of higher education and foreign policy at The New York Sun.