“Is this what’s leading our most elite universities? That’s really sad… You can’t highly regulate speech so that anything that offends anybody is a possible infraction and yet make an exclusion for Jewish students.”
I appeared on Friday, December 8, 2023, on the Tony Katz Show to discuss the fairly pathetic” appearance by the presidents of Harvard, U. Penn, and MIT in congress on the issue of campus antisemitism.
So far, the MIT President received the full backing of the MIT Board of Trustees, while the Harvard President has apologized. The U. Penn President also apologized. At the time of the taping of the interview below her job was in doubt, and today she resigned.
I discussed all of that plus the hypocrisy of elite universities on the issue of free speech, where almost nothing is tolerated if it offends the favored identity groups.
Partial Transcript (auto-generated, may contain transcription errors)
Well, it seems like these college presidents, these Ivy League, or as people like myself now call it the ISIS League, they seem okay with this. So the question is, what is the proper response to this? Tony Katz? Tony Katz, today, it’s good to be with you. William Jacobson joins us right now, Cornell Law Professor of the ind behind legalinsurrection.com. Be sure to check out the site and all the good work, that they do there. Before we get into maybe a conversation about the difference between the role of government and the role of the university, you are a college professor, you have been a professor, while being you and taking all the heat in the world, for the past maybe 10 years now. You watch this happen, you watch these university presidents from the Ivy League. Give this answer. What was your, what was your take?
Well, I think it shows really how pathetic the leadership of our most elite universities are. These were not impressive people. It’s a wonder that really three top ranked schools, two in the Ivy League and one not in the Ivy League, but you know, the premier science and technology and math institution in the country, really were so unimpressive. They seemed unprepared. They seemed like they had been told what lines to say, and it seems like they were all prepared to say the same lines. And it really, I think that’s was my takeaway. Is this what’s leading our most elite universities? That’s really sad. So that was my initial reaction to it.
I think it’s Bill Ackman who is a Harvard alumnus and a donor there. Wait, was Harvard or, yeah, I think it was Harvard, referring to the fact that Claudine Gay, who is a black woman, got her job because of DEI. I have no idea how she gother job there, but there’s a question of, when you talk about non impressive, I think that there are a bunch of people who said that, how did these women end up in these positions? If on a very simple subject, they can’t say a call to genocide clearly can be seen as harassment. Now, let’s get into that. A call to genocide is not seen as harassment?
We also have to understand how these things are happening on the campuses. They’re not happening in quiet conversations where people are expressing their views. They’re mobs marching through campus with bullhorns. They’re marching through libraries. They’re interrupting classes and chanting these things. Certainly in that context, it’s harassment and intimidation. So this is not a [question of] can you have the viewpoint that Israel should be destroyed? Maybe you can have that viewpoint. Can you shout it on a bullhorn while marching with a crowd of 300 people trying to intimidate everybody around you. And I think that’s he difference here. And I think that’s a huge distinction, that it’s not just what was said. It’s the way it is said is meant to intimidate people on campus. And it’s particularly meant to intimidate supporters of Israel.
And it’s particularly meant to intimidate Jewish students on campus because a lot of these things take place targeting Jewish students like at Cooper Union where Jewish students were hiding in the library or some room in the building as these mobs were chanting these things right outside the door. A lot of places, there’s attempts to break into rooms like that high school in New York City where they trapped a pro-Israel Jewish professor, and were chanting these things.
So these presidents were not in my estimation, being honest during that hearing. That doesn’t mean they committed perjury, but I don’t think they were being intellectually honest because they know full well not just what is said and what the intention of what is said, but they know how it is said. In those contexts for them to play this game, that it’s not intimidation. I think it was the president of MIT, if I’m remembering correctly, said, well, it could be threatening, if it’s directed at a specific person, but not if it’s stated kind of generally. Well, I disagree with that. When you have a mob of 300 people trapping Jewish students in rooms chanting these things, that’s intimidation and harassment,
Talking to William Jacobson, Cornell Law professor, the mind behind legalinsurrection.com. It certainly does make sense, but I want you to, if you could try and place it for us, as you have seen, whether it be at Cornell or other places, use the wrong pronoun you could be thrown out of the school. They’ll have whole assemblies and forced learnings about this. You engage in this cultural appropriation, engage in, in this misgendering, engage name, the name the thing, through the DEI/CRT lens. And you are gone. You’ve seen this happen in both schools and in in the private sector. How do they think that this doesn’t apply?
I think you’re right. That gets to a point that a lot of people have making, have made, that if they want campuses to be complete wide open free speech zones, yeah, that would be great. But they’re not. Speech is highly regulated. They have bias response teams. They have concepts of microaggressions. Like if you ask somebody, where are you from?, that most people would shrug their shoulders. That’s not an offensive. But if you were to ask that question to an Asian student on campuses, you would be accused of a microaggression or you could be accused of a microaggression, you know, suggesting that they’re not from the United States.
There’s all sorts of insane regulations of speech on campuses. And then for them to show up and say, well, a mob of students with bullhorns chanting Intifada, and we all know what that means, and targeting Jewish students is not intimidation and is perfectly acceptable speech, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t highly regulate speech so that anything that offends anybody is a possible infraction and yet make an exclusion for Jewish students.
So this gets to a conversation about the legal concepts regarding free speech. As we engage the First Amendment, it’s that government will make no law. So the government can’t say to these people, you’re not allowed to scream for genocide. If you want to chant from the river to the sea, the government cannot stop you. But the university certainly could stop you. And it would seem that if there are these other things as you’re discussing them, that we say we don’t allow that, it would fit into that case. That is the difference. Can you describe the difference between what the government is allowed to do and what the university is allowed to do?
Well, if you’re a private university, just like in your house, people may have a right to shout certain things on the street, but they don’t have the right to come into your living room and shout them.
So private property, obviously is not governed by the prohibition of restrictions on free speech. But the government is. I think it was the woman from MIT again, I’m forgetting which one said what, but I think it was MIT said, well, we construe our speech policies to be consistent with the First Amendment. So some schools, and apparently that school says that if it’s allowed under the First Amendment, meaning if the government can’t stop you from doing it, we don’t stop you from doing it. But we know that’s a lie. We know that’s a lie on every campus. I don’t know if there’s a single campus which would allow you to say openly on campus things that are offensive to various identity groups, but you have a constitutional right to say them. But there isn’t a single campus where you can say them without getting in trouble, so that they’re just not being truthful about how they regulate speech on campuses. And that’s part of the problem
You are now seeing, and it’s Sally Kornbluth, who’s the president of MIT. You’re now seeing the backlash. There has been a conversation that Liz McGill, president of University of Pennsylvania might lose her gig. You saw her, what looked like a hostage video, apology. You’ve seen Claudine Gay, president of Harvard, with a really non-apology kind of statements regarding her remarks on campus antisemitism in the college world. Has there been from the alumni and donors, I mean, we hear about them here and there, bits and pieces of things. Has there really been a, ‘Hey, we’re not putting up with this crap anymore. You change, or we’re out, we’re pulling our money right now.’ Have you seen that in a palpable way?
I only know what’s public information, and it seems like there have been a number of big donors who have done that. I think there will be a backlash against certain schools. I don’t think you’re seeing the backlash on campuses. You’re seeing the backlash off campuses from alumni and donors, who are usually the same thing. So yeah, I think there will be, but I don’t think these top tier elite universities, like MIT, Penn, and Harvard, really care. Maybe they will when you get eight figure and nine figure donations pulled. But I don’t think they really care. They are so insulated from the world. They consider themselves above everybody else. They sneer at most Americans. So I think there is a backlash building. I think it’s a backlash at the top tier elite schools, but I don’t know that it’s going make a difference.
…. I talked about this earlier, regarding the way Jews vote, for example, I’m Jewish. I know you are of course. Are they really going to change the way their vote or the way they vote in, in light of what happened on October 7th? And in light of the way that the progressive party has really acted in not condemning Hamas, but throwing support their way in groups like the Council of America Islamic Relations and others? In your estimation, if you were a betting man, William Jacobson of legalinsurrection.com, any of these college presidents going lose their jobs or change their ways?
Well, we know that MIT’s president is not, because last night the board of trustees of MIT offered a full-blown support of her, and backing of her. And so she’s not going to lose her job. I don’t think Harvard’s president is going lose her job. That would have huge implications because of her identity, if they were to fire a black woman president of Harvard. The one who I think is at risk is McGill for Penn. I’m not sure why she’s kind of being singled out by people. I don’t know that her performance was that much worse than the others. I think maybe it was a little bit, but she’s being singled out. And I think that’s probably a reflection of preexisting anger about what’s happening at UPenn. It really, of the three who are there, it’s the worst of the schools.
I know people who are alums there, and they’re disgusted at what’s happened. Penn is the most active anti-Israel campus among the Ivy League campuses, with the possible exception of Columbia. I think Columbia might be worse, but the President of Columbia wasn’t testifying to Congress. So I think that’s why. So I think there is a significant possibility. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, a significant possibility that this is the straw that breaks Liz McGill’s back, so to speak, using that phrase, that because there was so much upset heading into this about what’s happening at Penn, that this might just be too much. [Note: Magill resigned today, December 9]
William Jacobson Cornell Law, professor of the mind behind legalinsurrection.com. I appreciate it.
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