New YorkCNNThe presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania faced intense scrutiny on Wednesday from business leaders, donors and politicians following their testimony at a House hearing on antisemitism on campus and calls for genocide in Israel.

The criticism focused on the university leaders’ answers to questions on Tuesday about whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates their respective school’s code of conduct on bullying or harassment.

None of the school leaders explicitly said that calling for the genocide of Jews would necessarily violate their code of conduct. Instead, they explained it would depend on the circumstances and conduct.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a post on X he was “ashamed” to hear the testimony, calling it “one of the most despicable moments in the history of US academia.”

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, speaking outside a falafel shop in Philadelphia that had been targeted by protesters, called Penn President Liz Magill’s statements “unacceptable” and “shameful.”

Shapiro called for the UPenn board of trustees to meet and discuss whether Magill’s testimony represents the values of the university and board.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told CNN’s MJ Lee Wednesday that calls for genocide at universities were “unacceptable.”

Private equity billionaire Marc Rowan wrote a message to Penn trustees saying he heard from hundreds of alumni, parents and leaders who were shocked by the hearing, including at least one who hoped the hearing was fake.

“Unfortunately, this is not fake and the University is suffering tremendous reputational damage,” Rowan wrote in the message, obtained by CNN. “How much damage to our reputation are we willing to accept?

Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman called for the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania to “resign in disgrace,” citing disgust with their testimony.

“Throughout the hearing, the three behaved like hostile witnesses,” Ackman wrote in a post on X, “exhibiting a profound disdain for the Congress with their smiles and smirks, and their outright refusal to answer basic questions with a yes or no answer.”

Ackman, a Harvard graduate who has been a vocal critic of how universities have addressed antisemitism, posted a clip from the exchange at the hearing where the university leaders were asked about calls for the genocide of Jews.

“They must all resign in disgrace. If a CEO of one of our companies gave a similar answer, he or she would be toast within the hour,” Ackman said on X. “The answers they gave reflect the profound moral bankruptcy of Presidents Gay, Magill and Kornbluth.”

In response to Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik asking whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate Penn’s code of conduct, Penn President Liz Magill said: “It is a context dependent decision.”

Stefanik responded with shock.

“That’s your testimony today? Calling for the genocide of Jews is dependent on the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer yes for,” Stefanik said.

Ackman strongly criticized the response.

“Why has antisemitism exploded on campus and around the world? Because of leaders like Presidents Gay, Magill and Kornbluth who believe genocide depends on the context,” Ackman said.

The criticism of the university leaders was so strong that Harvard and Penn felt compelled to issue new statements attempting to clarify the testimony.

“There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students,” Gay said in the new statement posted on X. “Let me be clear: Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”

In a short video released Wednesday night, Magill echoed Gay’s response and said the university would immediately review and clarify its policies on hate speech.

“I was not focused on – but I should have been – the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It’s evil. Plain, and simple,” Magill said in a video posted on X. “I want to be clear: A call for genocide of Jewish people … would be harassment or intimidation.”

Magill noted antisemitic speech is designed to threaten and terrify Jews and remind them of the Holocaust, pogroms and other recent acts of violence against them.

“As president, I’m committed to a safe, secure and supportive environment so all members of our community can thrive,” Magill added. “We can – and we will – get this right.”

Representatives at MIT were not immediately available to respond to the criticism.

Continue reading