This week, the leaders of Harvard, MIT, and UPenn ironically did not understand the assignment when testifying in front of Congress about Antisemitism on their campuses. Asked whether a student’s calling for the genocide of Jews would violate student codes of conduct at their schools, they repeatedly deflected the question and said it would “depend on the context.

In the aftermath, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement: “It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country. Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans.” I couldn’t have said it better. 

Harvard President Claudine Gay later apologized in an interview with the Harvard Crimson, acknowledging that she “got caught up” in a heated exchange about policies and procedures. Penn’s former President Liz Magill put out her own video apologia, and ended up stepping down a day later. Leaders must read the room, understand their audience, and speak with clarity and integrity. In times of rising Antisemitism, this means prioritizing student safety over theoretical protest chants. For too long, academia has focused on its own bizarre ivory tower lexicon and customs, prioritizing money, institutional self-preservation, and branding rather than cultivating engaged and informed citizens. In that revealing public session, the leaders of our elite universities demonstrated a staggering absence of moral leadership and failure to do the right thing.

You know things are at an inflection point when SNL is doing a parody! As Scott Galloway noted on the 12/8/23 Pivot podcast, Antisemitism on campuses may be the issue that forces change and reform as donors, voters, and consumers reconsider their financial support of universities. Magill’s prompt exit could be a sign of changes to come. One thing is clear: action must be taken so that all college students FEEL safe and ARE safe.