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Fallout continues from a controversial hearing on antisemitism on college campuses

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The fallout continues from a congressional hearing last week on antisemitism on college campuses. The University of Pennsylvania's president resigned over the weekend, and that has their critics doubling down on calls for the presidents of Harvard and MIT to resign also. At the same time, some academics are pushing back in the interest of preserving academic freedom. NPR's Sequoia Carrillo joins us now to bring us updates. Good morning, Sequoia.

SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So Liz Magill is out at Penn. You've reported that she had been under fire even before this. What's the response been so far?

CARRILLO: So the resignation of Magill and also the chairman of the board has been met mostly by donors and politicians celebrating it as a win. A lot of donors pulled a lot of donations right after this hearing. One threatened to pull $100 million. Members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation even signed a letter calling for her resignation. In addition, I should say, more than 70 members of Congress on Friday signed a letter calling for all three presidents to go.

So for Magill, it did seem fast, and it was fast. But things had been coming to a boil at Penn for months. There had been antisemitic incidents reported on campus since September, and students, donors and staff had raised concerns about her leadership for some time.

Billionaire donors who worked hard to tip the scales on this issue in many ways were lauding it as a victory. Republican Representative Elise Stefanik was a pivotal figure in the hearing and led the charge for resignation in many ways. She posted on social media after her resignation, one down, two to go.

MARTIN: So Stefanik has been pushing for all three to be ousted along with others, as you just mentioned. How are Harvard and MIT responding?

CARRILLO: So there have been reactions all over the board so far. MIT has shown no sign of backing off support of their president, Sally Kornbluth, but Harvard has been more complicated. This weekend, a group of over 1,600 donors signed an open letter to the school promising to withhold donations unless Harvard takes urgent action to address antisemitism. The group is led by billionaires Bill Ackman and Leslie Wexner, who are promising a donor exodus unless significant changes take place.

But at the same time, more than 350 faculty members signed a letter to Harvard's governing board urging them to support their president, Claudine Gay, and Harvard's Black alumni have also been circulating a letter of support overnight.

MARTIN: So let's talk about the faculty. Do the faculty members - what grounds do the faculty members cite for their support?

CARRILLO: They argue in the letter that in order to continue the critical work of defending a culture of free inquiry in their diverse community, it can't be dictated by outside forces. It was signed by senior staff from across the university, including many well-respected professors from across the political spectrum.

Free speech advocates have issued similar statements. PEN America, a nonprofit focused on free expression through literature, responded to Magill's resignation by telling NPR that they hope this development does not serve as an invitation for politicians or donors to try to exert undue control over higher education institutions.

Harvard's top governing body met on Sunday for a regularly scheduled meeting but did not answer questions by reporters following the meeting. The House committee, though, has announced a formal investigation into all three schools following this hearing, so this story is most likely far from over.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Sequoia Carrillo. Sequoia, thank you.

CARRILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sequoia Carrillo is an assistant editor for NPR's Education Team. Along with writing, producing, and reporting for the team, she manages the Student Podcast Challenge.