House Republicans accuse Penn of 'failure to address antisemitism on its campus'

ByArthur Jones II ABCNews logo
Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Republican-led House Education Committee kicked off its formal antisemitism probe of the University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, which the committee called for after an explosive December hearing where three university presidents were grilled on allegations of antisemitism at their schools.

In a letter addressed jointly to Penn's interim president and chairman of the board of trustees, Rep. Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican and committee chairwoman, questioned the university's "failure to address antisemitism on its campus." The letter said there has been a pattern of "deeply troubling" events and "multiple incidents" of antisemitic vandalism and harassment at the school.

These events, the letter said, included that "anti-Israel groups projected hateful phrases onto university buildings, including 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,'" and Penn staff receiving emails threatening violence against Jewish life on campus.

The committee gave Penn a deadline of Feb. 7 to submit documents related to all "antisemitic acts or incidents" since Jan. 1, 2021.

Similarly, the committee started investigating Harvard University on Jan. 9 by calling for the school to send letters and documents related to any and all antisemitic acts or incidents since Jan. 1, 2021. Harvard's deadline to submit those documents was Tuesday -- and Foxx expressed her frustration with their submission, calling Harvard's response to the investigation "woefully inadequate."

A committee spokesperson told ABC News that the alleged incidents of antisemitism on Penn and Harvard's campuses began prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. Because of that, they said, they requested documents that went back far enough for the committee to conduct a thorough investigation.

"Rather than answering the Committee's request in a substantive manner, Harvard has chosen to provide letters from nonprofits and student handbooks, many of which are already publicly available," Foxx said in a statement. "This is unacceptable. Harvard must produce the remaining documents in a timely manner, or risk compulsory measures."

The committee announced its investigations into the schools' policies last month after the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT came under fire for their testimonies during a Dec. 5 hearing on antisemitism. Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., pressed the presidents during the hearing, calling their testimony "morally bankrupt" and requesting their resignations.

Hours after the hearing, amid bipartisan backlash, including from prominent Democrats, Penn President Liz Magill apologized for her response in the hearing in a video posted on the university's website.

"I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It's evil -- plain and simple," Magill said in the video.

Since the hearing, Magill and Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned from their positions following mounting pressure.

The Harvard Corporation, one of the school's governing boards, unanimously affirmed its support for Gay amid backlash over her responses at the congressional hearing.

"We unanimously stand in support of President Gay," the board said in December.

MIT backed Kornbluth following the backlash after the hearing.

The committee is investigating MIT's policies and disciplinary measures, although the committee hasn't formally requested documents from that university yet.

The Education Committee has said that its investigations extend beyond "one leader." More university probes are expected this year.

Penn told ABC News in a statement that they received the committee's request and "will respond after we complete a review of the request."

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