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Ivy Academia Under Scanner for Anti-semitism


A recent Congressional committee in the United States had questioned Presidents of Ivy League universities of Pennsylvania, MIT and Harvard on anti-semitism. The question that enfolds the issue is: is there any academia’s independence or is it polity writ large?

Any academicus or academic human comes to contact with knowledge systems concomitant with power systems – political, economic, social, cultural, scientific and technological. A recent Congressional committee in the United States had questioned Presidents of Ivy League universities of Pennsylvania, MIT and Harvard on anti-semitism. All of them were women Presidents with one of them resigning from the post due to controversy surrounding academics’ exercise of freedom of expression. The question that enfolds the issue is: is there any academia’s independence or is it polity writ large?

The US Government and advocacy groups got a report of increased threats against Jews, Muslims and Arab Americans since October 7 Hamas attacks. A federal complaint was filed against a Cornell student suspected of being a “person of interest” posting threats to kill or injure another Jewish person using interstate communications. In testimony to the Congressional Committee, the three Presidents of Ivy League Universities declined to give a definite yes or no answer to the queries of the Republican lawmaker Elise Stefanik. Stefanik posed a question of whether the genocide of Jews violates the University’s codes of conduct or not. Jewish students, families, and alumni have accused the universities of tolerating anti-Semitism, particularly in statements by pro-Palestinian demonstrators since Israel’s retaliation starting October 7. 

The President of the University of Pennsylvania resigned from the position. There was pressure built on President Claudine Gay of Harvard University to resign. But the Board of Harvard backed Gay’s position solidly. A statement supporting Gay said that they championed open discourse, and academic freedom, and united in a strong belief in non-violence against students and intolerant disruptions of the classroom experience. There are allegations of universities being neutral or antagonistic towards the cause of Palestinian groups while Jewish communities accused them of tolerating anti-Semitism. The US Department of Education has opened investigations into several universities for possible ethnic bias with an uptick of reports of racial and religious discrimination.

In our part of the world, the Sanskrit maxim says ‘knowledge is supreme power’. It is tempting for power holders to spur politicking the most to nurture, grow and promote consensus, ideologies, and principles in academia. Academia is not immune to news, views, and reviews of current happenings in our public and international affairs. Freedom of expression, as one of the ideas of democracy, is endangered by misuse or abuse. When crises set in or engulf the life world of any stakeholders, they raise their legitimate voices to demonstrate or protest against injustice, unfreedom and indiscriminate structural (inter)national violence. 

In essence, the academy has a long historical tradition of contemplating the ideal state, virtuous society and bonafide local and global citizenship. Furthermore, it concentrates on human affairs and human sciences including natural sciences enriching learning, knowledge and wisdom. Academy is always a target of political authorities interfering in its business partly due to vested interests, legal status, or monetary matters. Most often it is in academia where discourse, polemics and questions of the day are undertaken and answers sought to quench the quest for truth. It also trains and prepares esprit de corps of leadership – public and private, and equips calibre to civic service including public, foreign and security sectors.

This particular case of controversy is related to these dimensions concerning the government’s policy, conflict, violence, or violation of the laws of warfare and international humanitarian laws. In this burning news of West Asia, where currently Israel and Hamas are interlocked in the internecine conflict that hurts both warring peoples the most in post-war world history, violence is perpetrated in the quest for total and foolproof security, an entrenched bitter enmity and evasion of peaceful co-existence. It is a long-running conflicting issue where regional and international power politics are not resolving it once and for all. A legacy of bad history and dark episodes of countries are never settling the breach of liberty, justice and human dignity. These three top academies are a haven for the cream of brilliant and radiant students of the world and they are well-known cradles of higher education to many of us including students from the Non-West. They are alert to the enlightenment mission, which is a trajectory of the truth of life, society and the world. Student activism and intellectual engagements are salience of academia. It is innate nature to express solidarity, to be responsible and accountable to the voice of conscience and humanity if it is jeopardized.

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About the author

Mr. Kunwar is a politics and international relations analyst based in Kathmandu.


Rajeev Kunwar

Mr. Kunwar is a politics and international relations analyst based in Kathmandu.

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