(NEW YORK) — In response to the ongoing investigation into Harvard University by the House Education and Workforce Committee, PEN America released the following statement:

“This investigation is turning into a fishing expedition,” said Jeremy Young, director, Freedom to Learn program at PEN America. “The charges of antisemitism at Harvard are serious and demand urgent action. But when a congressional committee begins probing the internal affairs of a private university, it must act with great restraint, and the utmost respect for academic freedom and institutional autonomy.”

The Committee, led by Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC), sent a letter to Harvard on January 9  requesting a broad swath of documents and records related to alleged antisemitic and anti-Israel speech and activities on campus. The requested documents include internal staff communications, public messaging about antisemitism, disciplinary documents, and documents related a series of specific incidents over multiple years, including some pro-Palestinian protests and events, and social media posts made by students, faculty, staff, and Harvard affiliates.

“While Congress has legitimate authority to investigate whether higher education institutions are in compliance with federal law,” Young said, “that power must be wielded judiciously in a way that does not target particular viewpoints or cast a pall of orthodoxy over higher education. This investigation risks doing the opposite.”

The records requested by the House Committee are purportedly part of a broad investigation of higher education, which has included the launch of similar inquiries into the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. Rep. Foxx has also called for the resignation of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, for speech she believes failed to sufficiently acknowledge antisemitism, and has also questioned a New York Times characterization of her view that partisan administrators and political activists are engaged in a “hostile takeover” of higher education.

The investigations follow widely publicized hearings about antisemitism on college campuses held by the committee in December. Following the hearings, the committee also requested information about how Harvard University responded to allegations of plagiarism made against then-president Claudine Gay, which set in motion events that led to her resignation. The House Committee will reportedly also seek information about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in higher education, investigate accreditation standards, and determine if Congress may be authorized to withdraw federal funding from schools that they find have failed to properly address antisemitism.

PEN America has previously recommended specific actions universities should take to address antisemitism and anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate on campus.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057