A Moment of Reckoning for University Presidents

By Marc Baker, President and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston

Thank you to the White House for clearly condemning the three university presidents after the congressional hearing on antisemitism earlier this week:

“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.” 

To recap, three leaders of prestigious universities were unable or unwilling to answer a question about whether calling for genocide against all Jews constitutes bullying and harassment with a simple “yes.” Whatever the reasons for their equivocation, and while some are already trying to explain and walk back their testimonies, the hedging and contextualizing when asked this question felt like a frightening turning point for the American Jewish experience and for higher education. 

These presidents are educating the future leaders of America and the world, and they are responsible for the safety and well-being of Jewish students on their campuses. Yet, they could not find the words to unequivocally condemn even the most egregious and extreme example of Jew hatred.

What does this say about the Jewish community’s place in these universities and in American society more broadly? What does it say about the academic, moral, and cultural brokenness of higher education? 

I believe this is a moment of reckoning. Let’s hope that if we stay engaged and push these schools to change for the better, this will be the beginning of reformation and repair that is likely going to take decades.