After a week of unrelenting public criticism, Harvard president Claudine Gay released a video saying: “People have asked me where we stand. Let me be clear: our university rejects terrorism. That includes the barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.”
If people are asking a week later where you stand on the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the gang-rape of women, and the beheading of babies, you might have a moral problem. But if we’re grading on a Harvard-based curve, Gay should get a solid A-minus.
I reviewed America’s top 100 universities’ leaders’ statements. Only 47 outright condemned Hamas’s terrorist attack against Israel. Thirty-four expressed general grief but refused to point fingers. “The horrific violence and terror unfolding over the last few days in Israel and Gaza has the world in great distress,” said Penn State president Neeli Bendapudi. University of Southern California president Carol Folt lamented that “the grave events and the tragic loss of life taking place right now in Israel and Gaza fill us with such sadness.”
Folt later added that the university “condemn[s] the terrorist attacks by Hamas and their brutal threats to execute kidnapped civilians and commit other atrocities.” Folt and Gay were among the 15 college presidents to issue belated “and terrorism is bad”–type messages. Tufts president Sunil Kumar said, “As more reports and details emerge . . . the events that have come to light are pure barbarism.” But little new had come to light (aside from the dissatisfied reaction from donors to his original equivocation).
Kumar was far better than Northwestern University president Michael Schill. As a “Jew and a human being,” Schill said he was “repulsed, sickened, and disappointed” by Hamas’s “behavior.” But Schill insisted upon political neutrality: “[r]egardless of what the University has done in the past, I do not foresee that I will be issuing statements on political, geopolitical, or social issues.” Schill doesn’t apply this principle consistently; just three months ago, he decried the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard as “problematic” and “troubling.” Apparently, for Schill in his capacity as Northwestern president, restricting colleges’ ability to discriminate against white and Asian student applicants is a graver moral issue than the rape and murder of Israeli women and babies.
UC–Irvine president Howard Gillman, for his part, cited the argument that he “should not associate the campus with particular political positions on matters not directly related to the mission of the university.” Unlike Schill, however, Gillman declared: “The horrific massacre of innocent individuals in Israel by Hamas is not another international event or policy debate. It is the largest one-day slaughter of Jews anywhere in the world since the end of the Nazi holocaust.”
University of Florida president Ben Sasse put it well: “I will not tiptoe around this simple fact: What Hamas did is evil and there is no defense for terrorism. This shouldn’t be hard.” And yet, for American university leaders, clearly it is. Fewer than half of the top 100 presidents could be brought to say it outright.
Why didn’t university presidents universally and unequivocally condemn Hamas? You don’t need a Ph.D. to figure that out. Most university presidents are not selected for their scholarship or moral character. Most rose to their positions because they had their fingers on the political pulse of their respective institutions. They knew what they should, and shouldn’t, say to satisfy their colleagues.
Sasse argued that such colleagues “have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos of raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to ‘provide context’ and try to blame the raped women, beheaded baby, or the murdered grandmother.” But speaking of “moral confusion” may give them too much credit. Allan Bloom’s influential thesis from The Closing of the American Mind, that universities are plagued by relativism, is no longer quite accurate. Universities are now beholden to the ideology of racialist Manichean schoolmarms. According to that ideology, a white frat boy hitting on a sorority girl is practically a war criminal. But an “oppressed,” “indigenous,” “person of color” raping a “colonizer”? That’s a different matter.
University presidents certainly were not being influenced by pro-Hamas donors and alumni. Instead, they were beholden to the views of their students and faculties. Their tepid response to the outrage in Israel illustrates what millions of parents already suspected: America’s most highly educated are often its most morally perverse.
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