It was a clarifying moment, wasn’t it? The presidents of MIT, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania testifying for the House Education Committee about the wave of rabid antisemitism on their campuses. Representative Elise Stefanik of New York asked the same question of UPenn’s Liz Magill, MIT’s Sally Kornbluth and Harvard’s Claudine Gay. Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate your campus’s rule of conduct, yes or no? That was the question.
You might think it was a pretty simple question. Stefanik, exhibiting a mixture of incredulity and barely contained rage, stressed: “This should be be the easiest question to answer,” as one president after the next emitted a pained I-can’t-believe-this-unenlightened-pol-is-asking-me-me-the-president-of-Harvard/MIT/Penn-this-stupid-question.” Each in turn reverted to a script they must have worked out with their handlers/lawyers. “It all depends on the context.”
“Context.” It was the weasel word of the moment. We’re all champions of free speech, don’t you know, so we wouldn’t dream of intruding upon our flock’s exercise of that sacrosanct right in pursuit of their dream of self-congratulatory moral perfection — unless, of course, that dream involves some prohibited attitude, criticizing St. Anthony Fauci, for example, or St. George Floyd, or, heaven forfend, supporting Donald Trump or expressing skepticism about the 2020 election or January 6. Then, of course, it’s open-season on “free expression.”
I almost felt sorry for those three women. Almost. There they were, emanating the self-righteous demeanor they had perfected over years, and, bang, an angry congresswoman exploded that cheap facade in minutes. The upshot was not obvious to them immediately. But the world’s outrage at those moral pygmies instantly washed over the PR offices of those obscenely rich bastions of self-entitlement. “Uh, oh: the girls really stepped in it this time.” That was the universal reaction.
President Magill issued a cringe-making video (upon which, just to be on the safe side, the public could not comment), saying that when she said “context” she hadn’t really meant “context” and of course she and Penn are not in favor of antisemitism, et cetera, et cetera. It was a pathetic performance. Meanwhile, President Gay issued a statement on Harvard’s official X account assuring the world that Harvard would not stand for “calls of violence or genocide” against Jews or “any religious or ethnic group.” Whew! For this relief, much thanks.
Attentive readers will have noticed that I have emphasized that these three university presidents are ladies. I did so because the “feminization” of higher education we having been hearing so much about recently is very much in the background of this event. (Not, I hasten to add, that feminized males — I believe the preferred argot is “cucks” — like Peter Salovey at Yale or Christopher Eisgruber at Princeton wouldn’t have given similar non-answers: they surely would have.)
The feminization of higher ed — and of American society as a whole — is a large topic. Here I want simply to note that the repellent jelly of moral confusion that united all three responses was saturated by that feminization. None of those women could give a direct answer to a direct question about a matter of grave moral moment. Instead, they temporized, equivocated, dodged and parried.
Bill Ackman, the billionaire founder of Pershing Square Capital and (former) mega-donor to Harvard gave a splendid example of the opposite, non-hothouse response. “They must all resign in disgrace,” Ackman wrote. “Why has antisemitism exploded on campus and around the world?” he asked. “Because of leaders like Presidents Gay, Magill and Kornbluth who believe genocide depends on the context.”
It was a refreshing, straightforward, may I say “masculine” response. I second Ackman’s demand and hope that he has started a trend.