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Testimony before US House Committee on Education and the Workforce

MIT Office of the President

On December 5, 2023, MIT President Sally Kornbluth testified before the US House Committee on Education and the Workforce. You can read her opening statement here.

After the panelists’ opening statements, the hearing proceeded over the course of more than four hours. Below are all the questions President Kornbluth was asked by the members of the committee during that time, followed by her answers, in their entirety.


Exchange with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)

VIRGINIA FOXX: How did your campuses get this way? What is it about the way that you hire faculty and approve curriculum that's allowing your campuses to be infected by this intellectual and moral rot?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: MIT is a majority STEM educational research institution, and we are devoted to solving the problems that face society. Our faculty are hired for their brilliance. Now, we allow them to say what they'd like in the classroom in the name of free expression, but we are committed to having them know that this is — that our campus must be a welcoming and inclusive environment. And although they may say what they like in the classroom, academically, targeting any individual student harassing or discriminating is strictly forbidden in our classrooms and on campus.

VIRGINIA FOXX: Do you believe that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish nation?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Absolutely, Israel has the right to exist.


Exchange with Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC)

JOE WILSON: President Kornbluth, what is the percentage of conservative professors in — at MIT?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: We do not document people's political views, but conservatives are welcome to teach on our campus.


Exchange with Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA)

MARK TAKANO: Do you consider yourself as subject matter expert on antisemitic behavior?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: No, I do not, but I learn.


Exchange with Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC)

ALMA ADAMS: How are you balancing the protection of free speech, academic freedom, with the need to also oppose normalizing antisemitism attitudes that are radical and dangerous?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: I think, in addition to education, which I agree with, so that students are — and faculty and staff can identify and combat antisemitic tropes and speech, I think it's important to call out antisemitism in a very visible and public way and a specific way in order to make clear what the — how it's contrary to the values of the institution where we're talking about speech alone.

ALMA ADAMS: Thank you. So, Title VI provisions set the standard for what should be done to address racism, hate crimes, and violence on campuses. Do you think that your DEI departments are equipped with the tools to combat antisemitism or hate on your campus? And if not, what changes do you plan to make?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Yes, so our diversity, equity, and inclusion staff are absolutely charged with making the campus welcoming for all students and that absolutely includes our Jewish and Israeli students. We absolutely see antisemitism as an inclusion issue. We're making sure that our staff who are dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion are being trained about antisemitism. But you know, it goes well beyond that staff. It's important that our leadership understands antisemitism, that our students and faculty understand antisemitism. And I'll just say one thing about MIT, we can make as many top-down initiatives as we want, but the heartening thing is that the discussion of antisemitism and indeed, Islamophobia is now proceeding at a grassroots level at MIT.


Exchange with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: What challenges have you faced in condemning hate and acts of hate while making sure students were heard?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: You know, I have to say my — my absolute goal is to ensure the safety of students and the continuity of our research and educational missions. And these recent events have troubled me deeply. And we have mobilized as a campus. I think the most important thing is first knowledge to understand that, as I mentioned in a previous answer, that our leadership, our students and our faculty have to have knowledge. But way more importantly right now is these students are thrown together in classrooms and laboratories and dormitories every day. This is where the dialog is taking place. And we have to ensure that they have the tools for constructive communication across differences. We are bringing these discussions to the dormitories. We have a center for construction — constructive engagement where the students are going to be able to have small roundtable discussions with each other. We have funded and mobilized — and I cannot tell you how wonderful our faculty have been. They've just issued a statement from 300 faculty about unity and working together with the students. And so, there have been lunches. There have been meetings for our Israeli and Jewish students with Jewish faculty for our Arab and Muslim students with Arab and Muslim faculty. But now they're working to figure out how to bring them together. If we're all going to live and work together productively, we have to move beyond, you know, formal training which we are committed to but to actual real dialog and to actually model constructive and civil dialog for our students. That's what being in a university is all about.


Exchange with Rep. Rick W. Allen (R-GA)

RICK W. ALLEN: At MIT, Israeli and Jewish students were blocked from attending class by pro-Palestinian protests at the school's main entrance. The protest violated campus — campus rules when the school ordered all protesters to leave the area or face suspension. The contingent Jewish counter protesters left. The pro-Palestinian stayed. Can you explain how that is fair to Jewish American citizens whose rights are being violated, when you said, because we later heard serious concerns about collateral consequences for students such as visas and that sort of thing? Can you explain yourself there?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Yes, thank you very much for the opportunity. I have to say when we started this protest, when the protest rather was started, I ordered a police presence to ensure safety. And we de-escalated when it was prudent. In a very tense situation among students, we avoided altercations and we kept everyone safe. And we are now entering into a process of ensuring accountability. Now with respect to the consequences. We strive for outcomes that are proportional to the transgression, in this case, violation of our time, place and manner rules for demonstration. I want to make one comment though about people attending classes. First of all, at no time — [interrupted by Rep. Allen]


Exchange with Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) 

BURGESS OWENS: Dr. Kornbluth, I'm sorry, we have on your campus, something called Chocolate City, where Blacks only — or Black-only dorms, where Whites are excluded. Is it OK, also, for Whites to set up a White-only dorm, where minorities are excluded?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: You know, actually at MIT, our students affiliated — affiliate voluntarily with whichever dorm they want to. It's not exclusionary, it's actually positive selection by students, which dormitory they want to live in.

BURGESS OWENS: OK, so it's OK for Blacks to not make Whites feel included. Is it OK for Whites not to let Blacks feel included on your campus? We are talking about segregation, and it's obviously happening on your campuses.

SALLY KORNBLUTH: You know, I think it's really important to say that there's a distinction between sending an exclusionary message and looking to other students for common experiences and support.

BURGESS OWENS: If in case we discover, and this is for everybody here real quick, in these last few minutes, that there's a direct link from DEI and CRT to the growth of Marxist interest groups, like BLM, Antifa, and the pro-Hamas on campuses, would you then end the DEI initiatives on your campus — if there's a link between what that is and what the result of hatred? Would that be a — would that be finished on your campus, real quickly?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: I find it hard to understand how equity and inclusion, as a concept, is a hatred inducer.


Exchange with Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA)

MICHELLE STEEL: In September 2019, then-Secretary DeVos opened the Section 117, it's a foreign disclosure section, investigation into MIT that has not been closed. What concrete steps that — has MIT taken to address the lack of Section 117 reporting?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: So let me say — and thank you for the question. We have cooperated fully. I can't comment on an open investigation, but I have to say we have greatly increased our reporting to be fully compliant.

MICHELLE STEEL: So it's not done yet, but we — it's still under investigation?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: As I understand it.

MICHELLE STEEL: A study released just last month by the Institute for the Global Study of antisemitism found that from 2015 to 2020, institutions that accepted unreported money from Middle Eastern donors had an on average 300 more antisemitic incidents than those institutes — institutions that did not. Do you believe foreign nations with views hostile to Israel would desire your students to echo their views?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Yes, thank you. So, all funds that come to MIT in any form are for open publishable research. We retain full control over what research is conducted. We also have an extensive internal review process for reviewing foreign gifts. We also adhere to all federal laws. And we see these reviews through the lens of national security, economic security and importantly, human rights.


Exchange with Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI)

HALEY STEVENS: I was wondering if our university presidents could chime in on how you balance that and … do that distinguishing and also that enforcing to make sure that we do not have unlawful harassment or the incitement of violence on our college campuses? Would you like to start, Dr. Kornbluth?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Oh, yes, sorry, yes. So, thank you for raising that. You know, college campuses are a crucible of ideas where students are side by side. And it's part of the education to hear things that they — that they feel are uncomfortable. But to — to be absolutely clear, speech can become a form of harassment. And our policies make absolutely clear that harassment is punishable. Speech that targets individuals, or again, as we've heard incites violence on our campus or crosses the line — these cross the line into harassment. This is taken very, very seriously.

HALEY STEVENS: What happens when we remove humanities? What happens when we — when we allow for government to dictate what is being taught on our college campuses, similar to what we're seeing in Florida and in West Virginia? What risk does that pose particularly when we talk about the proper teaching of history?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: May I take that?


SALLY KORNBLUTH: Yeah, you know, it's interesting coming from a majority STEM institution, as I said, I can't even think of a place where it's more important that our students also learn humanities, have a humanistic perspective. We all have to live and work together as people. And in order for us to be successful, when I think about the technologies that are coming down the road, we want our students to understand the moral implications.

HALEY STEVENS: We need to do both.

SALLY KORNBLUTH: We need to do both, exactly.


Exchange with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC)

VIRGINIA FOXX: Will you commit to getting a briefing scheduled before the end of the year from the IDF?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: I will hear what anyone who wants to give me information wants to say.


Exchange with Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)

JAMAAL BOWMAN: Do you all feel that education, globally, is very important in addressing the issue of antisemitism? You can just shake your head or say yes. Yes?


JAMAAL BOWMAN: We have an original sin in our nation of slavery and discrimination. That sin continues to evolve as segregation, separation and a lack of understanding and empathy of knowledge of each other. Can you just speak briefly to all of that? We'll start here and go down the line.

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Yes, thank you, Congressman Bowman. This actually echoes what I had said earlier, which is it's every single one of our responsibility. And this is why I am heartened by the full MIT community taking up this problem. It's a human problem.


SALLY KORNBLUTH: Person to person, so I appreciate what you had to say about this.


Exchange with Rep. Julia Letlow (R-LA)

JULIA LETLOW: Have you established rigorous programs and rules to address and prevent sexual harassment and violence against women on your campuses?



Exchange with Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM)

TERESA LEGER FERNANDEZ: And because this idea that — that they are — that — that Jewish students and that Jews are not indigenous to these lands, I think it's something that needs to be pushed back against, right? And — and some of these false narratives, I think, are really important. And I think one of the questions then is what do we do when there has been that loss of faith? … How do we regain that trust?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: So what you're saying is really, really important. We're making a real effort to educate our students on the history of the Middle East. Our Center for International Studies has organized an online course and really understanding the facts. The other thing I do want to say though about your comments on the Holocaust, as the last survivors of the Holocaust are passing away, it really behooves us to make sure our students at all levels understand the history of the Holocaust. And as you say, this starts at K-12, not just once they get to us at university.


Exchange with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA)

MARK DESAULNIER: Dr. Kornbluth, just because I just finished a book, Reestablishing Conversation, by one of your faculty who talks about this — maybe you can just briefly.

SALLY KORNBLUTH: No, I agree completely with President Gay. And I would say that social media is like a drug — right? — it's addictive and it reinforces, over and over again, messages, regardless of their truth. And so as educational communities, we need to strive for making sure our students know truth, and speak to each other as human beings.


Exchange with Rep. James Comer (R-KY)

JAMES COMER: Dr. Kornbluth, this report from the National Contagion Research Institute and the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy shows MIT received a total of $859 million from foreign sources, between 2014 and 2019. Has MIT accepted money from Qatar?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: So all of our — as I said previously, all of our funds are for open, publishable research. We maintain full control over the research being conducted. I would have to get you the specific funding on Qatar, via the staff, after this session. It's publicly available information in the public record.

JAMES COMER: Well, does MIT have a policy of not accepting money from countries that harbor or support terrorists?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: So our review of all foreign money is seen through the lens of national security, economic security, and human rights.

JAMES COMER: So I take it, no, then. Do you — do you — your university think it's a good policy to accept donations from countries that support and/or harbor terrorists?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: I've told you what our policy is. Thank you.


Exchange with Rep. Eric Burlison (R-MO)

ERIC BURLISON: Can you tell me, your university, have you taken actions to remove these Students for Justice in Palestine?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: So as far as I know, we do not have an SJP chapter. We do have students who are allied with or interested in advocating for the Palestinian cause, but we are not aware of any national links of that group.


Exchange with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY)

ELISE STEFANIK: Dr. Kornbluth, does — at MIT, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate MIT’s code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment, yes or no?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: If targeted at individuals, not making public statements.

ELISE STEFANIK: Yes or no, calling for the genocide of Jews does not constitute bullying and harassment?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: I have not heard calling for the genocide for Jews on our campus.

ELISE STEFANIK: But you've heard chants for intifada?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: I've heard chants, which can be antisemitic depending on the context when calling for the elimination of the Jewish people.

ELISE STEFANIK: So, those would not be according to the — MIT’s code of conduct or rules?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: That would be investigated as — as harassment, if pervasive and severe.


Exchange with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)

BOBBY SCOTT: Does anybody know from — the kinds of things that would constitute a Title VI violation?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Yeah, a hostile environment that prevents the students from attaining their educational acquisition.

BOBBY SCOTT: Students have a right to feel safe on campus. Would the standard of a hostile environment apply to all students or just Jewish students?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: All students.

BOBBY SCOTT: Several comments have been made that the campuses are full of antisemitism, and that's the only problem on campus. Again, the university presidents' comment on that?

SALLY KORNBLUTH: Yes, racism, Islamophobia, anti-LGBTQ sentiment. One thing if I might add about free speech on campus with these issues is that the best way to fight negative speech is more speech, to have speakers and individuals who fight antisemitism and can speak to our students on campus.