WATCH: MIT, Penn, Harvard Presidents Say Calls for Jewish Genocide Do Not Violate Code of Conduct

'If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,' Penn's Liz Magill said

December 5, 2023

The presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard University said Tuesday that calling for the genocide of Jews would not necessarily violate their schools' code of conduct.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) had asked the university heads whether "calling for the genocide of Jews" violates their school's code of conduct or rules with regard to bullying or harassment.

"If targeted at individuals, not making public statements," said Sally Kornbluth of MIT. After Stefanik pressed her on it, Kornbluth said such statements "would be investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe."

"If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment, yes," said Liz Magill of Penn. Stefanik pressed her as well, leading Magill to add, "If it is directed and severe or pervasive, it is harassment." When Stefanik asked her for a firm "yes," Magill replied that it is "a context-dependent decision."

"It's a context-dependent decision? That's your testimony today?" Stefanik replied. "Calling for the genocide of Jews is depending upon the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer 'yes' Ms. Magill."

Magill then said that "if the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment." When Stefanik pressed her again, she said the call "can be harassment."

Stefanik then moved on to ask Harvard president Claudine Gay whether such calls violate her school's rules against bullying and harassment.

"It can be, depending on the context," Gay replied. After Stefanik asked her for an example of such context, Gay said if the rhetoric was "targeted at an individual."

"Anti-Semitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation, that is actionable conduct, and we do take action," Gay said when Stefanik asked her again. When Stefanik asked her if the answer is "yes," Gay said, "Again, it depends on the context."

Stefanik said the three presidents gave "unacceptable answers across the board."

The presidents testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about anti-Semitism on their campuses. At another point in the hearing, Stefanik asked Gay if students who call for an "intifada" or say "from the river to the sea" will face punishment. Gay called it "hateful, reckless, offensive speech," but she said it was protected by freedom of expression.