When Rep. Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina and chairwoman of the Education and Workforce Committee, held a hearing on anti-Semitism on college campuses, she said her goal was not not to force the nation’s leading university presidents from their positions.
But after the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania gave evasive answers on whether calls for Jewish genocide violated their schools’ codes of conduct, sparking a national outcry that led upon their resignation, Ms. Foxx and other House Republicans decided to seize the political moment they helped create.
House Republicans are now embarking on an aggressive and sweeping investigation of America’s higher education institutions, targeting the academic elites they have long viewed as avatars of cultural decline — all in the name of fighting anti-Semitism.
“We want students to feel safe on their campuses, that’s our No. 1 issue, and Jewish students don’t feel safe,” Ms. Foxx said in an interview Friday. She said she wanted to expand the investigation to include an in-depth analysis of what she described as a “hostile takeover” of higher education by partisan administrators and political activists.
The committee, which has hired new staff to conduct the investigation, now plans to focus on other Ivy League schools, as well as some public universities, by calling on more witnesses — using subpoenas to appear if necessary – to testify, according to people familiar with the matter. plans still evolving who spoke on condition of anonymity.
House Republicans plan to study efforts to improve diversity on campus — known as diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs — and their impact on Jewish students. (There has long been a division within the Jewish community on this issue, with some advocating for the complete elimination of DEI initiatives, and others pushing to include Jews as protected minorities who would be helped by such programs .)
Republican members of the commission also want to explore the issue of accreditation and determine whether federal aid can be withdrawn from a school that fails to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic actions on campus.
Attacking elite institutions of higher education was a conservative concern long before former President Donald J. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. William F. Buckley Jr., one of the founders of modern American conservatism, for example, accused Yale University of rejecting God and teaching liberalism in its classrooms. Former President Richard M. Nixon was recorded lashing out at Ivy League presidents, saying he wanted them out of the White House.
Today, criticism of universities remains a powerful way for leaders to rile the Republican Party’s base voters against what they call “woke” elites, while sowing doubt about institutions.
But in framing the investigation into campus anti-Semitism and the inadequate responses of university administrators, House Republicans have based what many view as a right-wing opportunistic attack on an issue that cannot be categorically dismissed as partisan.
“There are partisan oversight hearings at the Capitol where the other party doesn’t show up at all,” said Ira Stoll, former president of the Harvard Crimson who worked at the Harvard Kennedy School as editor-in-chief of a journal on educational policies. “That’s not what’s happening here.”
Still, the investigation worries many academics, who fear that Republicans are simply trying to legitimize a broader attack on higher education by rooting it in a concern with anti-Semitism.
“I know about weaponized congressional hearings and the politicization of academic standards to advance a partisan political agenda when I witness it,” Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, wrote on social media . “That’s what I see now.”
Ms. Mulvey added that “continued political interference poses an existential threat to America’s globally predominant higher education system,” and she called on “anyone who cares about higher education as a public good in a democracy” to fight back.
House Republicans argue that it is the education panel’s job to hold higher education institutions accountable. With Harvard in particular, the committee plans to examine “academic integrity” and governance on its campus, examining how the board of trustees came to hire ousted president Claudine Gay in the first place, and how he proceeded to investigate allegations of plagiarism regarding his academic work.
William A. Ackman, the billionaire investor who crusaded against Harvard, Dr. Gay and the DEI, claimed in an online article after his resignation that Dr. Gay was hired despite the fact that she was not “not qualified to serve in this field”. role.”
Dr. Gay, Harvard’s first black president and second woman to lead the university, was a central figure in a heated debate over DEI during his entire six months at the helm of the university, a period that coincided with the Supreme Court’s rejection of the use of race-conscious admissions.
House Republicans hired an oversight staffer to focus exclusively on the ongoing college campus investigation and asked other committee aides to work solely on that issue. They also set up a hotline and inbox for Jewish students who have experienced anti-Semitism on their college campuses to report these incidents directly to the committee.
Ms Foxx said she and her colleagues were still in the early stages of planning the investigation, but she said there was no doubt she would look into DEI, a favorite target of the right .
“The majority of people in this country want everyone to be treated equally,” Ms. Foxx said. “What we’re seeing with DEI is that’s not the case. Positive discrimination is a good thing. DEI, I’m not sure.
Foxx added that “we do need diversity, but what has happened is that diversity has become reduced to race and gender.”
“There is no ideological diversity on campus,” she said. “And that’s not right.”
Federal campaign finance data compiled by OpenSecrets shows that 88% of political contributions from people in the education sector during the 2021-22 campaign cycle went to Democrats.
But Alvin Tillery, director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University, said Republicans’ public complaints about anti-Semitism on college campuses ring hollow.
“No Jewish students have actually been subjected to violence on most of these campuses,” Mr. Tillery said, noting two notable exceptions: the assault of an Israeli student at Columbia University and an alert to the bombing of a Jewish center on the campus of Cornell University.
Instead, he said, the debate has focused on pro-Palestinian chants and signs during campus protests to end Israel’s deadly offensive in Gaza. “There is a huge generation gap on campus, and young Jews are participating in the movement to support Gaza,” he said. “It’s really hard to see how this will continue to be successful.”
Mr. Tillery also noted that Republicans who position themselves as defenders of Jewish students “all serve a master in Donald Trump, who quotes Hitler in his garbled speeches; people see through that. (Mr. Trump recently said that migrants coming to the United States were “poisoning the blood of our country,” echoing language used by Adolf Hitler.)
Yet alarm about rising anti-Semitism does not come only from Republicans. In November, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, gave a deeply personal speech on the Senate floor in which he said that pro-Palestinian chants like “From the River to the Sea” delivered a “violently anti-Semitic message, strong and powerful.” clear,” to the Jewish people.
But some Democrats said Republican efforts to use the issue to launch a broader attack on diversity efforts would fail. Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, expressed anger over diversity initiatives was widespread among a small part of the Republican base, but not among the middle of the electorate or among young voters.
In a recent poll he conducted among a national sample of voters, 67 percent said they view DEI in businesses as a good thing.
For them, Mr. Garin said, “these attacks confirm the perception that the Republicans are a backward-looking party, obsessed with playing the race card whenever it can.”