US House committee opens probe into Harvard, Penn, MIT after antisemitism hearing

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) -A U.S. House of Representatives committee opened an investigation into three of the country's most prestigious universities on Thursday, two days after lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the school presidents' testimony about addressing antisemitism.

The Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce said in a statement it planned to investigate the learning environments and disciplinary policies at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The panel said it believed the schools were not doing enough to address "rampant antisemitism" on their campuses following the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, which prompted a massive, ongoing Israeli counterattack on Gaza.

The investigation could expand to other universities, the statement said.

An MIT spokesperson said the school rejected antisemitism in all its forms and would work with the committee to address its questions.

A Harvard spokesperson said the university had "the highest commitment" to combating antisemitism and "looks forward to sharing information with the Committee as it pursues its inquiry.” A representative for the University of Pennsylvania, or Penn, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Oct. 7 attack and ensuing war between Israel and Hamas have claimed thousands of lives, and turned U.S. college campuses into hotbeds of protest. University leaders have come under fire from both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian communities for their handling of student and faculty speech and conduct.

More broadly, there has been an upsurge in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents, including violence, in the U.S. and elsewhere.

At Tuesday's hearing, Republican U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik grilled Harvard President Claudine Gay, Penn President Liz Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth, asking them whether "calling for the genocide of Jews" would violate their schools' codes of conduct related to bullying and harassment.

Each president declined to give a simple "yes" or "no" answer, noting that a wide range of hateful speech is protected under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment and under university policies.

Video clips of the hearing sparked outrage among the schools' Jewish students and alumni, who, following the hearing, stepped up calls for Magill and Gay to resign.

One prominent donor, Stone Ridge Asset Management founder and CEO Ross Stevens, has withdrawn a gift to Penn worth nearly $100 million to protest the school's response to on-campus antisemitism, Stevens said in a letter.

"Mr. Stevens and Stone Ridge are appalled by the University's stance on antisemitism on campus," said the letter, which was first reported by Axios.

In the committee's statement, panel Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, a Republican, said, "the testimony we received earlier this week (from university leaders) ... was absolutely unacceptable."Committee members have deep concerns with their leadership and their failure to take steps to provide Jewish students the safe learning environment they are due under law," Foxx added.

The investigation will include "substantial document requests," the statement said, and could include subpoenas for information not readily provided.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)