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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

    Navigating The Recent University President Resignations

    Tim Sackton
    The gates to Harvard with fall foliage behind them. Courtesy of Tim Sackton on Flickr.

    On Dec. 5, 2023, the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) testified in a congressional hearing regarding the recent surfacing of antisemitic sentiments in their respective schools. During the hearing, all presidents stipulated that, in an attempt not to stifle free speech on campus, “if the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment; it’s a context-dependent decision,” United States Representative Elise Stefanik said. America proceeded to explode. 


    Later, on Dec. 9, 2023, the president of the University of Pennsylvania Mary Elizabeth Magill resigned, after being berated by not only Congresswoman Stefanik but equally by many Americans online. She may as well have been fired by the public, considering the surge of hate directed towards her following the hearing. President of MIT Sally Kornbluth, a Jewish woman, survived the controversy surrounding her responses in the hearing.


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    Harvard University’s president Claudine Gay remained through a week of attacks following the hearing but ultimately was forced to resign under accusations of plagiarism. In her New York Times article, “What Just Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me,” Gay stated that her resignation was a product of preexisting hate towards her, and the accusations of plagiarism and antisemitism were mere justification. 


    “This was merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society,” Gay said. “Campaigns of this kind often start with attacks on education and expertise, because these are the tools that best equip communities to see through propaganda.”


    In the midst of the territorial conflict between Israel and Palestine, antisemitic sentiments in universities have been evident, though not present in all pro-Palestine protests. For example, an Israeli student was beaten with a stick at Columbia University in early Oct. 2023. At the University of Washington and George Mason University, pro-Palestine protests surrounded and chanted at other students. Though not to the same extent, pro-Palestine protestors have also faced harassment from their perceived opposers. 


    I believe that the responses of Gay, Magill and Kornbluth were dangerous for the Jewish communities inside and outside their schools. Words can be violent, and allowing such violence to fester on the basis that it is passive will result in much more blatant acts of hate. However, Gay and Magill acknowledged the harmful nature of the statements made during the congressional hearing, which was the appropriate thing to do.


    The reaction of many Americans to the hearing and the conflict is completely outlandish. Gay’s resignation was indeed entirely a product of a politically motivated desire to get her out of the position she was in, whether that be specific to her race, as a Black woman, or not. The surge of conservatives who managed to force her out of office is enough of a tell-tale sign. It is incredibly disheartening to watch university presidents be shoved out of office so easily. 


    Truthfully, the Israel-Hamas conflict has produced senseless controversy. Physical and verbal attacks on the Jewish population are a crude reaction to the current events. Similarly, the resignation of two university presidents is an immature product of political bias. In a series of  “To the Editor” letters published in the New York Times, people discuss how everyone makes mistakes, including these university professors, who don’t deserve to be kicked out of their jobs.


    This conflict has brought out the worst in all political orientations, specifically extremists. The people behind both university president resignations were fueled exclusively by hate, whether that be conservatives who despise a Black university president, Jewish students who revolt against a president they do not feel supported by or a general pressure from the public to remain politically neutral while simultaneously supporting conventional politics. Similarly, pro-Palestine activists greatly resemble groups so absorbed in a political message that they fail to think practically.


    Pro-Palestine protestors are not necessarily condoning the actions of Hamas, nor expressing antisemitic sentiments. However, demanding a ceasefire is a well-intentioned but impractical wish. You can’t ask a group of people to negotiate with those who want them dead. The complexities of this conflict have been ignored for much too long, as I see it, a prime example being university presidents being forced to resign due to attempting to align themselves with conventional politics and failing miserably. I encourage all readers to explore the nuances of the Hamas-Israel conflict, rather than perceiving it as black and white. Otherwise, your actions can be detrimental to all innocent civilians. 


    By Bryn Soven

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