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Monday, December 11, 2023

Pressuring university presidents

The Times and Michael Dorf consider some of the faculty-governance issues circling the attacks that resulted in Liz Magill's resignation and the targeting of Claudine Gay at Harvard. (Sally Kornbluth has university support, for now). Dorf emphasizes the correctness (if insensitivity) of their answers to the actual questions asked, as well as the bad-faith politics and ideological goals underlying the hearing, Stefanik's questions, and the subsequent attacks.

I will add one other question to the mix: To what extent does gender play a role here? The presidents at the center of the storm are women. Dorf mentions three schools--Columbia, Cornell, and NYU--that have dealt with antisemitic incidents; all have women presidents. This was not the dynamic at the hearing, where women served as chair and lead attack dog. But wealthy male alumni and commentators have led the post-hearing charge. And I cannot help but wonder what would have happened or what would be happening now if male campus leaders had given legally accurate-if-ham-fisted answers.

On a separate-but-related note, I do not understand this statement from FIRE cheering Magill's resignation as an opportunity for Penn to reboot on protecting student speech (Penn is second-to-last in FIRE absurd rankings that have someone become a meaningful standard for evaluating campus speech). FIRE argues that "[a] change of leadership could be exactly what Penn needs — as long as the new leadership prizes dialogue, ideological non-conformity, a culture of free speech that takes seriously the search for truth, and the process of debate and discussion that will get students there." But Magill faced pressure to resign because she took (if in an overly lawyered way) the position FIRE advocates for--offensive antisemitic speech is protected if it stays with First Amendment bounds. Why does FIRE believe a future president will adopt and advocate for that position, having seen what happens when she does? Maybe this is about the inconsistency (so FIRE will move from Camp Three to Camp One when the right president comes in. But, again, that is not the question Stefanik asked. Moreover, many of the post-hearing attacks have framed it as "failing to protect Jewish students from antisemitism," not "restricted lots of speech until it targeted Jews." So I would not expect Magill's successor to come storming onto campus sounding like an academic Ira Glasser. 

Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 11, 2023 at 12:26 PM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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