Dec. 11 Open Letter of alarm over congressional testimony

December 11, 2023

to: President Kornbluth, Provost Barnhart, Chancellor Nobles

To: The MIT Corporation: Mark Gorenberg, Chair; Glen Shor, Treasurer; Rachel Donahue, Secretary; Members:  Fiona Chen, Yu Jing Chen, Kevin Churchwell, Heather Cogdell, Grace Colon, Rafael del Pino, Danielle Geathers, William Gilchrist, Jeffrey Halis, Diane Hoskins, Pearl Huang, Michelle, Nelson Lin, Richard Locke, Adrianna Ma, Laird Malamed, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Sarah Melvin, Mick Mountz, Adedoyin A. Olateru-Olagbegi, Charles Ong, Darryll Pines, Ray Rothrock, David Siegel, Annalisa Weigel, C.J. Whelan, Janet C. Wolfenbarger, Mark Wrighton, SongYee Yoon

Dear President Kornbluth, Provost Barnhart, Chancellor Nobles and members of the MIT Corporation:

We are a growing group of MIT Jewish alumni and MIT allies writing to express our alarm over the congressional testimony of President Kornbluth of December 5, 2023, the subsequent public relations fallout, and the continued failure of the MIT administration to address the growing antisemitism on MIT’s campus. 

Calls for genocide of any group of people, including Jews, constitute bullying and harassment.  Such calls originating from MIT’s campus should never be tolerated by the MIT administration and should instead be met with swift disciplinary consequences. Yet, during the congressional testimony of December 5, 2023, President Kornbluth implied that calls for genocide of Jews may not constitute bullying and harassment under MIT’s code of conduct, depending on context.  Protecting violent antisemitic rhetoric on MIT’s campus, rather than Jewish victims of such rhetoric, sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that violent words of hate are acceptable, at least as they relate to the Jewish people.  Understandably, President Kornbluth’s testimony was met with a public uproar.

However, even in view of the disastrous congressional testimony by President Kornbluth, the executive board of the MIT Corporation chose to extend its full support to the President in its public statement made on December 7, 2023.  This is in contrast to the decision by the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, who, in their efforts to limit reputational damage from the congressional hearings, accepted the resignation of President Elizabeth Magill and the Chair of the Board of Trustees Scott Bok on December 9, 2023. Notably, President Kornbluth was the only University president that did not issue any apology or clarification in response to the intense backlash to her Congressional testimony.  

Further, during this past week, President Kornbluth’s testimony was initially met with shock and subsequently widespread public criticism from across the entire spectrum of American opinion including the Biden administration, Professor Laurence Tribe, Governor Kathy Hochul, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff, William Kristol, Representative Jake Auchincloss (MIT MBA ‘16), Representative Seth Moulton, and Representative Elise Stefanik.   We defy the MIT Corporation to find any other point of common agreement amongst these diverse public figures, or indeed any prominent public figure who found President Kornbluth’s testimony from December 5, 2023 to be acceptable.  

We are therefore perplexed as to why, at the very same moment that other public figures were distancing themselves from President Kornbluth’s testimony before Congress, the MIT Corporation declared its “full and unreserved support” for President Kornbluth.  Exactly what kind of message was the MIT Corporation trying to send to the MIT community, and especially its Jewish members, with such a statement so at odds with the overwhelming majority of the public?

Growing antisemitism on MIT’s campus, and the resulting publicity, President Kornbluth’s congressional testimony, and the resulting backlash and Congress-ordered investigation, have been damaging to MIT’s reputation worldwide.  President Kornbluth’s failure to control antisemitism on MIT’s campus has distracted MIT’s students and administration from MIT’s core mission.  We are alarmed to observe MIT earning a national reputation for antisemitism on President Kornbluth’s watch, rather than for academic excellence, and joining a group of ignominious universities currently struggling with antisemitism on their campuses.  MIT’s public reputation affects its ability to attract the best students, faculty candidates, and corporate research partners for its scientific work.

We call for immediate and concrete actions by the MIT administration to combat antisemitism on campus and to demonstrate zero tolerance for calls for genocide of Jews irrespective of the “context”:

Enforce meaningful consequences for the individuals who violate MIT’s rules

Students have disrupted classes, protested in areas that MIT has explicitly said were off-limits for protests (such as 77 Mass Ave steps), and occupied Lobby 7 for an entire day after being repeatedly warned that this DOES violate MIT policy.  These events happened over 1 month ago with no meaningful consequences to date.  We call on the MIT administration to discipline those responsible for violating MIT’s rules.  

Create an antisemitism-specific task force on campus

We call on the MIT administration to implement concrete solutions to address the rise of antisemitic rhetoric and harassment in the immediate term through an antisemitism-focused task force to work on ensuring the physical safety of Jewish students and combating the root causes of antisemitism’s spread on campus.  MIT has a responsibility to clarify that public calls for violence against civilians are grounds for expulsion and amend the MIT Code of Conduct to include this if necessary.

Publicly announce that calls for violence against civilians is grounds for expulsion and amend the MIT Code of Conduct to include this if necessary

The MIT code of conduct cannot allow for the calls for murder of any minority group.  It does not.  It is not asking for that much courage or moral clarity to announce this publicly without comments about “context,” “public statements vs. individuals,” or other such equivocation.

We look forward to hearing about concrete actions that the MIT administration is taking to right this flailing ship and create a protected, supported, and safe environment for the entire MIT community without exception, and to reassure Jewish students that calls for their genocide are considered harassment at MIT and will be met with swift and meaningful disciplinary action.

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