When Minouche Shafik, the president of Columbia University, was asked to appear before Congress to testify about antisemitism on college campuses, she cited a scheduling conflict and said she could not attend.
It turned out to be a response that her counterparts at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may now be wishing they had considered too.
Ms. Shafik was the only invited witness to decline an invitation to appear last week before the House Education and the Workforce Committee for its hearing entitled “Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism.” That decision spared her a public grilling that became a five-alarm crisis for the three university leaders who did attend, including one who lost her job in the subsequent uproar.
It also raised the question of why individuals feel obligated to appear before Congress at all — especially when they know they are walking into a high-risk situation where lawmakers with political agendas are often seeking scalps and opportunities to create viral moments by setting prosecutorial traps for their witnesses.
The president of the University of Pennsylvania, M. Elizabeth Magill, resigned four days after her appearance at the hearing, where she delivered evasive answers about campus antisemitism. Facing threats from angry donors and a congressional investigation, Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, managed to stay on. But that was only after its governing board deliberated about her fate well into the night on Monday and acknowledged she made mistakes in addressing the fallout to the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7.
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