Why the House targeted those 3 presidents (letter)

December 8, 2023
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To the Editor:

In “Presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT Face Grilling on Capitol Hill,” (December 5, 2023), Katherine Knott says “it’s not entirely clear why these three particular presidents were called to Capitol Hill, considering that many campuses across the country have grappled with protests, rising tensions and finding a balance between promoting free expression and keeping students safe. All three have had high-profile controversies and faced criticism for their responses to the Hamas attack and their handling of protests following the start of the war, but the same has been true for other campuses and presidents.” 

She quotes a spokesperson for the House committee to the effect that they, “reached out to universities that have been at the center of the rise in antisemitic protests.” 

This is obviously disinformation and distraction. Columbia and Harvard have received the most column inches and airtime since Oct. 7, 2023. The president of Columbia is not called to testify.

These three presidents are clearly identified as weak targets for attack. This is strikingly unacceptable in 2023. 

What unites the three is immediately clear: they are all women and very recently appointed to their positions as the heads of elite universities. They are marked. In fact, the president of Harvard, Claudine Gay, is that university’s first Black female president and second woman in that office; she had barely assumed office when “donors” attacked her and called for her resignation or termination. Liz Magill, Penn’s second woman president, began her term in July 2022. Sally Kornbluth, MIT’s second woman president, took office only in January 2023. 

Where are the presidents of Columbia, Princeton, Yale, or Michigan, Wisconsin, Berkeley, among so many others whose institutions’ actions and inactions make the national media? 

This is no accident. It deserves much more attention than it is receiving. 

–Harvey J. Graff
Professor emeritus of English and history
Ohio State University



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