During the legislative battle last spring to end the racially divisive and cynically named “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” (DEI) programs in Texas academic institutions, faculty members called the effort racist and extremist. Hundreds of University of Texas at Austin students and professors flooded into the Capitol building to smirk and boo former HUD Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, the pre-eminent African American physician, who explained that DEI is a sham. Many stood with their backs toward lawmakers and Dr. Carson—like petulant children—to show their disdain.
Fearful that funding would be cut, administrative leaders from Texas flagship universities insisted to legislators that DEI was simply a program to help students who needed extra support to succeed in college—minority and marginalized students, first generation students, even veterans. Who could be against that?
The truth about DEI—that the world is divided into two groups, oppressors and the oppressed, has been difficult for normal Americans to comprehend. With academic administrators insisting they were simply continuing the work of making college accessible to everyone, donors, parents and students haven’t really pushed back. Texas and Florida are the only states that have banned DEI outright, and major universities like Michigan have doubled down.
All that changed last week when over a billion people viewed video clips of three elite university professors who declined to condemn threats of Jewish genocide on their respective campuses.
People who have been mystified by pro-Palestinian student marches since Oct. 7 that proclaimed America to be an evil oppressor while insisting the Hamas terrorists are the good guys finally have an answer—these awful sentiments are coming from the top.
When the now-notorious college presidents, Claudine Gay of Harvard, Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Liz Magill from the University of Pennsylvania, told a congressional committee that calls for genocide and intifada by students on their campuses would have to be “considered in context,” their frightening insensitivity shocked some sense into the country.
These DEI “pod people” presidents repeatedly refused to condemn threats of genocide and violence against Jewish students even when given several chances to recant. Their worldview is so distorted that they could not bring themselves to say what is obvious to most Americans—attacking and calling for the deaths of Jews, or any group of people because of their race or ethnicity—is wrong, unequivocally. There is no “context” in which it would be okay.
The blowback was immediate. The presidents were called on to resign and donors threatened to withdraw millions in contributions from their universities. Magill, at the University of Pennsylvania, is already out, although the move is hardly a setback for her. She is still a fully tenured professor in the UPenn law school.
Apologies also came quickly as Gay at Harvard explained that she was focused on the free speech policies at Harvard rather than the recent demonstrations.
Free speech is a good argument to make, but the president of Harvard cannot credibly make it. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), Harvard has the worst record on free speech of any university in the country.
At Harvard, the failure of anyone—student or faculty—to call a man who thinks he’s a woman “she” can get you fired. In fact, Devon Buckley, a radical feminist, was disinvited from speaking at Harvard because she has written that “gender is binary.” Even Lawrence Bacow, a former president of Harvard, was drummed off the stage there because students disagreed with his position on disinvestment from Israel.
Every Harvard student must take Title IX training where they learn that expressing any hint of “transphobia,” “fatphobia,” or “cis-heterosexism” is abusive.
Magill and Kornbluth also apologetically said their focus in the Congressional testimony was free speech, but their records are no better than Harvard. The Arab Alumni Association of MIT demanded that Miri Eisin, a former colonel in the Israel Defense Force, not be allowed to speak on campus and she was disinvited. Former CIA Director John Brennen was shouted down at the University of Pennsylvania and his lecture had to be cancelled.
To take a credible stand for free speech, you must stand up for all speech—but these presidents and all universities that are steeped in the ideology of DEI simply don’t allow that.
The Kalven principles, adopted by the University of Chicago, has a different free speech model. It proscribes that every issue is open to debate and universities should be neutral, protecting all sides to speak. University of Chicago students are rallying for Palestine on that campus, but Jewish students are rallying as well. Though there is backlash from both sides, the recently stated position of the University of Chicago on the Middle East is that they have no position—on this or any other issue. Students are free to speak.
If the three presidents had told the congressional committee that their institutions did not take positions on issues, the hearing would have been over, but, again, their record makes it clear that’s not true. While they ignored the attack of Hamas terrorists on Jews on Oct. 7, all three institutions spoke out almost immediately after George Floyd was killed. Harvard not only affirmed its support for Black Lives Matter, it also attacked the Harvard University Police Department. MIT quickly issued a statement promising to increase its diversity and equity efforts, and at the University of Pennsylvania, the official statement issued immediately said that the University community “weeps for the loss of life.”
Their statements called on the community to embrace Black Lives Matter. They also essentially reiterated the DEI principle that we are all either oppressors or oppressed and must continue to fight the racism inherent in everyone, whether they know it or not.
It would be a mistake for universities or any of us to demand that Jewish people be moved from category A (oppressors) in the DEI dichotomy to category B (oppressed). What we should see clearly in the weak and evasive testimony of the three elite university presidents is that the entire ideology of DEI must be overthrown. There is no place for it in academic institutions where all ideas are debated freely and every individual must be judged on his or her merit, achievement and character, not group identity. When that happens—and terrorists launch a genocidal attack on people anywhere—it should be resoundingly condemned, no matter who the victims are.
Oct. 7 should have been an easy call. It is tragic these academic leaders couldn’t make it.