Thursday, December 7, 2023

A lesson in how NOT to testify

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik: Ms. Magill at Penn, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn's rules or code of conduct? Yes or no?

UPenn President Liz Magill: If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment. Yes.

Stefanik: I am asking, specifically calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?

Magill: If it is directed, and severe, pervasive, it is harassment.

Stefanik: So the answer is yes.

Magill: It is a context dependent decision, Congresswoman.

Stefanik: It's a context dependent decision. That's your testimony today, calling for the genocide of Jews is depending upon the context, that is not bullying or harassment. This is the easiest question to answer. Yes, Ms. Magill. So is your testimony that you will not answer yes? Yes or no?

Magill: If the speech becomes conduct. It can be harassment, yes.

Stefanik: Conduct meaning committing the act of genocide. The speech is not harassment. This is unacceptable. Ms. Magill, I'm gonna give you one more opportunity for the world to see your answer. Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn's Code of Conduct when it comes to bullying and harassment? Yes or no?

Magill: It can be harassment.

Stefanik: The answer is yes.

Testimony given earlier this week by MIT President Sally Kornbluth, UPenn President Liz McGill, and Harvard President Claudine Gay to the House Committee on Education & the Workforce was embarrassing and pathetic.

If you replace "Jews" with Blacks, Muslims, or any other protected class, I strongly suspect the answers of these university presidents would have been very, very different. In today's geopolitical climate, however, it has not only become acceptable, but sadly cool to be antisemitic.

As Congresswoman Stefanik correctly said again and again, "calling for the genocide of Jews" is "bullying and harassment." Period. Hard stop. It's frightening that the leaders of three of our most prestigious universities weren't comfortable admitting this universal truth. I also agree with Stefanik that their unacceptable answers should disqualify them from continuing to hold their jobs.

Yet, while their testimony scares me, it doesn't necessarily surprise me. There is a tendency when testifying in tough cases to avoid admitting to any wrongdoing, mishandling, or mistakes, out of a fear of not wanting to damage one's case. As a result, witnesses equivocate and give wishy-washy answers that actually do way more damage than if they had just admitted to their past errors. 

The only correct answer here, however, is the one that Stefanik was pushing for, because it's so painfully obvious. You can't deny obvious facts and maintain your credibility. If I had prepped these witnesses to testify, I'd have prepped them to give that obvious answer, period. Because anything else is at best disingenuous and at worst as antisemitic as the underlying offenses.