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The mobbing of the presidents

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I find it distasteful to be defending presidents of elite American universities, since they represent the pinnacle of the contemporary pyramid of overpaid university administrators in our extremely dysfunctional higher education system.

But.

The metaphorical lynch mob that has come after the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and Penn for the crime of having tried to give intelligent and nuanced answers to gotcha questions from fascist Trump enabler Elise Stefanik is a disgrace.

Here’s the latest salvo from the mob:

More than 70 U.S. lawmakers on Friday demanded the governing boards of three of the country’s top universities remove their presidents, citing dissatisfaction with their testimony at a hearing about antisemitism on campuses, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

In the letter, Republican Representative Elise Stefanik and Democratic Representative Jared Moskowitz demanded that the board of governors at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology oust their presidents or risk committing “an act of complicity in their antisemitic posture.”

Penn President Liz Magill, Harvard President Claudine Gay, and MIT President Sally Kornbluth, who all testified before a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Tuesday, have come under fire from their schools’ Jewish communities for their handling of clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian contingents since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Calls for Magill’s and Gay’s resignations in particular have mounted in the days since their testimony, during which they declined to give a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to Stefanik’s question of whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ codes of conduct regarding bullying and harassment.

I’m also disturbed that lots of LGM commenters seem blind to what is actually going on here, and are piling on. For example:

I think the issue is that calling for the genocide of any other group would be a violation of the code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment, full stop. Not “it depends”.

I am sure that if a student called for the genocide of Palestinians — and I’m sure some shitheads have — all here would be in agreement the student should be expelled, regardless of the circumstances in which the student called for genocide. And that it shouldn’t take a long investigation and 17 hearings rescheduled 17 times, such that would allow him/her to graduate and move on.

This is a wildly wrongheaded position. (Magill, Gay, and Kornbluth are all women; I’ll defer to commenter Karen on the social dynamics of the clearly delightful opportunity to beat up prominent women in public). When a university administrator is thinking about university codes of conduct governing bullying and harassment, she has to be thinking about things that can and do happen in the real world of actual interactions of actual human beings at universities. Like for example this:

A and B are having a late night conversation. A is somewhat intoxicated, and struggling with his emotions because a friend of his family was murdered in the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks. At one point he says “I don’t care if the IDF kills every man, woman, and child in Gaza. Only the Jews are not allowed to defend themselves.” B isn’t personally disturbed by this remark, which B doesn’t take seriously. Shortly afterwards, A and B have a severe falling out when B’s former girlfriend starts dating A. Purely out of spite, B reports A’s remark to the administration, and claims falsely that he felt harassed and bullied by A (B had previous to the conversation signed a public letter, condemning the IDF’s campaign in Gaza).

This is a hypothetical, but it’s also exactly the kind of problem that, in the real world, university administrators need to worry about when thinking about the uses and abuses of university codes of conduct, and bullying and harassment policies. That’s why, when asked if calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ codes of conduct regarding bullying and harassment, these presidents each said, “it depends.” BECAUSE THAT IS IN FACT THE CORRECT ANSWER.

Look, I understand that it’s not “the correct answer” if you’re trying to avoid getting mobbed by the fascist scream machine and its centrist and even the liberal enablers, and that with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight these women should have all just lied and said yes, that would be bullying and harassment, no matter what the circumstances, because I’m really truly against genocide, and I’m really truly not anti-Semitic, and I’m proving that by caving to the bullying and harassment of Elise Stefanik, who just happens to be one of the worst persons in America currently, which is kind of like being the best quarterback on the Kansas City Chiefs (in other words a high bar, for you non sportsball people).

I understand. But I also understand that these women are being crucified for telling the truth, as opposed to uttering a politically convenient lie, and that criticizing them for that is aiding and abetting what Stefanik was doing, which was disgraceful and disgusting, and not something that anybody who would like to avoid getting cuddly with fascists — again these people are literally fascists — ought to be doing right now.

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