Saunders: Colleges fall silent on their speech double-standard

They’ll defend speech of pro-Palestinian protests but say nothing of conservatives being shouted down.

By Debra J. Saunders /

“Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate (your university’s) code of conduct or rules regarding bullying or harassment?” Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., asked three university presidents on Tuesday.

The occasion was a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing on antisemitism on campus; a hearing that follows Hamas’ brutal murders of 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7 and competing campus activism in support of Israel or Hamas.

The response of Harvard’s Claudine Gay, M.I.T.’s Sally Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania’s Elizabeth Magill was illuminating. When pro-Palestinian activists talk intifada (uprising), they choose to look at said speech in “context” and some ask whether that speech targeted individuals.

“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,” Magill responded.

The presidents have a problem: When they talk about free speech, their double standards are showing.

“The modern form of antisemitism is more subtle, for it is often disguised under progressive political innuendoes,” noted Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah. He sees offices for DEI — Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — as anything but diverse or inclusive.

A 2022 survey of college faculty by the academic-freedom group FIRE found that three-fourths of liberal faculty support mandatory diversity statements, while 90 percent of conservatives see them as political litmus tests.

At one point, Kornbluth pushed back at committee Republicans for “in effect arguing for a speech code.” She said she wants to protect “speech and viewpoint diversity for everyone.”

Who believes that? Not students in those institutions. The FIRE survey found that 70 percent of Harvard students say shouting down speakers to prevent them from speaking on campus is “at least rarely acceptable.”

At an event flanked by House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La.,, Penn senior Eyal Yakoby offered that he used to think stories about campus antisemitism were “nonsense” and “fear-mongering.” Since Oct. 7, however, his beloved Penn has become “a chilling landscape of hatred and hostility.”

By the end of the hearing, Gay, Kornbluth and Magill had stopped answering reasonable questions, such as if any students had been expelled for their antisemitic speech or actions.

They looked like total frauds arguing for free speech despite their universities’ dubious records and with their bureaucratic language. So they graduated to silence.

Debra J. Saunders is a fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership. Contact her at Copyright 2023,

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