An unwarranted attack on academia

For the first time in its 157-year history, the Committee on Education and the Workforce of the US House of Representatives has issued a subpoena to an educational institution, Harvard University, to appear before them and to provide them with a voluminous assortment of documents and internal communications. Harvard officials issued a statement calling the subpoena “unwarranted.”

The Education Committee has given Harvard a new deadline of March 5 to submit additional material regarding any and all antisemitic activity at the University since 2020. In a statement, Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx said, “I will not tolerate delay and defiance of our investigation while Harvard’s Jewish students continue to endure the firestorm of antisemitism that has engulfed its campus.”

In the first phase of the investigation starting last December, the Education Committee invited the presidents of Harvard, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania to be interviewed about events on their campuses since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

The widely televised interviews of presidents Magill (Penn), Gay (Harvard), and Kornbluth (MIT) seemed inquisitorial, especially under the questioning of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) who demanded yes or no answers to several of her questions rather than letting the presidents each answer in their own way (a technique reminiscent of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy). During their conversation, Stefanik told Gay that he should resign for “harboring and fostering” antisemites at Harvard. At the end of her interrogation, Stefanik, with a smile, said to Foxx, “one down, two to go.” Within a few days, two of the three presidents, Magill and Gay, had resigned their positions; Kornbluth survived the attacks from the Committee and others. Critics from all sides complained that Gay and Magill had not given good account of themselves and their universities’ positions, perhaps because they had not adequately prepared for such tough, hostile questioning.

Billionaire alumni from Penn and Harvard began campaigns to fire the presidents and other officials and to cut gifts from all sources to their respective universities. At Penn, board member and major donor Marc Rowan also called for the dismissal of President Magill and other university officials, as well as any students involved in antisemitic activities. At both universities, groups of major donors have been formed to threaten withholding of funds unless major actions to quell antisemitism were instituted. Similar efforts are now underway at several other campuses including Stanford, Wellesley, Cornell and Columbia.

Not long after the ruthless Oct. 7 Hamas attack, a demonstration against the subsequent Israeli counterattack was held in front of Harvard’s Hillel House. A letter signed by members of more than 30 groups condemned Israel and stated that the Hamas sneak attack was actually caused by Israel. This letter was widely distributed, angering many pro-Israel individuals and groups. Within a few days, a large truck with illuminated signs and giant photos and personal information about the letter-writing leaders parked around Harvard Square and elsewhere. Additionally, efforts were made to “doxx” the signers of the letter.

A group of students chanting the word “Intifada” is hardly adequate cause for a congressional investigation. Considering the severity of the Israeli counterattack, still continuing after more than four months, largely on the residents of Gaza where more than 30,000 civilians have already been killed by the Israeli military, it is surprising that the campuses have remained as quiet as they have, a tribute perhaps to Harvard and Penn’s attempts to calm the situation. However, the recent resignation of professor Raffaella Sadun, chairwoman of Harvard’s Task Force on Antisemitism, indicates that campus unrest is still simmering.

The Education Committee’s stated purpose of investigating antisemitism and Islamophobia on college and university campuses is not the only matter on their mind (Islamophobia has yet to be discussed). Chairwoman Foxx was quick to acknowledge that concerns about DEI, “woke” influence throughout higher education and other educational concerns would be looked at by her committee.

It is hard not to see the Education Committee’s investigation as mostly a Republican campaign effort to find something with which to attack Democrats. Rep. Stefanik, characterized Gay’s resignation as “only the beginning of the reckoning that’s coming for the ‘woke’ left-wing college administrators” whose “institutions are rotten to the core!” Chairwoman Foxx has long criticized the American educational system. In a recent interview she spoke of “a hostile takeover of higher education by partisan administrators and political activists.” But in framing the investigation on antisemitism on campus and the supposedly “inadequate response to it by university administrators,” many see this as a right wing “fishing expedition” designed to attack academic freedom using antisemitism as an excuse.

Antisemitism seems but a pretext here for a partisan political attack on higher education and its elite institutions, an election year ploy.

Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville and graduated from Harvard (B.A.) and Penn (M. Arch).

Latest News

Robert J. Pallone

NORFOLK — Robert J. Pallone, 69, of Perkins Street passed away April 12, 2024, at St. Vincent Medical Center. He was a loving, eccentric CPA. He was kind and compassionate. If you ever needed anything, Bob would be right there. He touched many lives and even saved one.

Bob was born Feb. 5, 1955, in Torrington, the son of the late Joseph and Elizabeth Pallone.

Keep ReadingShow less
The artistic life of Joelle Sander

"Flowers" by the late artist and writer Joelle Sander.

Cornwall Library

The Cornwall Library unveiled its latest art exhibition, “Live It Up!,” showcasing the work of the late West Cornwall resident Joelle Sander on Saturday, April 13. The twenty works on canvas on display were curated in partnership with the library with the help of her son, Jason Sander, from the collection of paintings she left behind to him. Clearly enamored with nature in all its seasons, Sander, who split time between her home in New York City and her country house in Litchfield County, took inspiration from the distinctive white bark trunks of the area’s many birch trees, the swirling snow of Connecticut’s wintery woods, and even the scenic view of the Audubon in Sharon. The sole painting to depict fauna is a melancholy near-abstract outline of a cow, rootless in a miasma haze of plum and Persian blue paint. Her most prominently displayed painting, “Flowers,” effectively builds up layers of paint so that her flurry of petals takes on a three-dimensional texture in their rough application, reminiscent of another Cornwall artist, Don Bracken.

Keep ReadingShow less
A Seder to savor in Sheffield

Rabbi Zach Fredman

Zivar Amrami

On April 23, Race Brook Lodge in Sheffield will host “Feast of Mystics,” a Passover Seder that promises to provide ecstasy for the senses.

“’The Feast of Mystics’ was a title we used for events back when I was running The New Shul,” said Rabbi Zach Fredman of his time at the independent creative community in the West Village in New York City.

Keep ReadingShow less