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House GOP threatens Harvard with subpoena, considers expanding antisemitism investigation to Cornell and Columbia

<i>Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images</i><br/>Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) departs the House chamber following a vote at the U.S. Capitol on November 14 in Washington
Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) departs the House chamber following a vote at the U.S. Capitol on November 14 in Washington

By Matt Egan, CNN

New York (CNN) — Rep. Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, is threatening to subpoena Harvard University for documents in what appears to be a widening investigation into alleged antisemitism on college campuses.

“We thought Harvard would take this more seriously,” Foxx told CNN in a phone interview.

Harvard responded to the committee’s request for a mountain of documents on policies, procedures and responses to alleged antisemitism last week. That response, according to Foxx, included 24 documents, totaling just over 1,000 pages, that were already in the public domain such as copies of student handbooks.

“We need the remaining documents we requested — and we need them in a timely fashion. We are hoping they will move forward with giving us the documents, without us having to issue a subpoena,” Foxx said, adding that the committee always knows it can comply document production through subpoenas.

“We don’t want to use it. We prefer to work with people, but we will if we need to,” Foxx said.

A spokesperson for the committee provided CNN a list of the 24 documents Harvard turned over to Congress, noting that all of them were already available publicly. That’s despite the fact that the committee’s request included documents that would likely not be publicly available, including internal communications related to Harvard’s response to the anti-Israel letter from student groups in October and information on foreign donations.

In response, Harvard spokesperson Jason Newton told CNN that Harvard is “committed to cooperating” with the committee’s inquiries.

“We denounce any form of antisemitism in the strongest possible terms and are committed to the safety and wellbeing of our students,” Newton said. “We intend to continue to engage with the Committee in a dialogue to respond to their ongoing requests.”

Cornell and Columbia could face House scrutiny next

Foxx made clear the House committee could expand to other schools beyond the three it has formally announced investigations into: Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania.

“We are looking at other schools. We’ll go broader,” Foxx said.

Asked if she has considered adding other schools including Cornell University and Columbia University to the investigation, Foxx said yes.

“We are going to do an examination of any universities that fail to address antisemitism. We are quite well aware of Cornell and Columbia,” Foxx said, adding that Columbia President Minouche Shafik was invited to testify but was unable to attend.

Samantha Slater, a spokesperson for Columbia, said the university has been in touch with Foxx and her committee since last fall.

“We look forward to continuing our cooperation with the Chairwoman and her colleagues toward our shared goal of combating antisemitism and other forms of hate,” Slater said.

Cornell declined to comment.

Over the weekend, Cornell’s board of trustees rejected a call from a prominent donor to push out President Martha Pollack due to concerns about the university’s diversity policies and response to antisemitism.

“Cornell was founded on the principle that ‘any person can find instruction in any study,’” the board said in a statement on Saturday. “Under President Martha E. Pollack’s leadership, the university has remained faithful to this principle and to the core values that unite our institution.”

Since last fall, the Department of Education has launched Civil Rights investigations into all five universities.

Last week, the House Education Committee wrote a letter to UPenn requesting a trove of documents similar to the ones requested from Harvard.

White-shoe law firm WilmerHale is aiding UPenn in the House investigation, a university spokesperson told CNN. WilmerHale, known for defending clients under government investigation, is the same firm that prepared former UPenn president Liz Magill for her testimony before the committee last month.

Harvard’s antisemitism task force

Harvard leaders have come under renewed pressure from some critics over the selection of professor Derek Penslar to lead a newly formed presidential task force on antisemitism. Economist Larry Summers blasted the selection of Penslar, arguing he is “unsuited” for the role because he has “minimized” Harvard’s antisemitism problem.

“We’re also very concerned,” Foxx told CNN.

A committee spokesperson elaborated, saying Penslar “downplayed” the antisemitism problem at Harvard and “made his anti-Israel views very clear.”

Some students, professors and outside groups have come to Penslar’s defense, including the American Academy for Jewish Research, which praised him as a “prolific scholar” who has “precisely” the kind of expertise needed.

More than 300 scholars of Jewish history, Israeli society, antisemitism and related fields have also signed an open letter voicing their “fullest support” to Penslar, arguing there are “few people better prepared” for the moment.

Just last week, Penslar’s newest book, “Zionism: An Emotional State,” was named a finalist for the National Jewish Book Awards.

Racial attacks on Gay ‘totally inappropriate’

Claudine Gay stepped down as Harvard’s president earlier this month following a wave of controversy over her writings and appearance before Foxx’s committee.

Gay, the first Black president in Harvard history, later said she faced death threats and was called the N-word as her critics pushed “tired racial stereotypes.”

Asked what role race played in the campaign against Gay, Foxx said it was not a factor in her committee’s investigation.

“I’m sorry if President Gay was threatened because of her race. That’s totally inappropriate. But that had nothing to do with our investigation,” Foxx said.

Foxx also insisted that her investigation is not being fueled by political or ideological motivations.

“What is driving us is concern for students and for faculty,” she said. “It has nothing to do with ideological beliefs. It’s all about protecting the students.”

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