It has been more than six months of the Israeli-Palestinian War that was triggered by the horrific events of Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas took over 200 hostages, 126 of which remain in captivity.

Since that dark day, antisemitic acts and pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses across the country have increased, including recent events at UNC-Chapel Hill.

On Monday, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted a discussion with Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, R-NC, Chairwoman of the Education Workforce Committee, facilitated by Max Eden, an AEI research fellow. 

“Starting on October 8th there were these quote, ‘spontaneous demonstrations’ on campuses and pretty soon we decided among the staff and I that something needed to be done to put a spotlight on what was happening on the campuses,” said Foxx. 

Foxx said that there were many contestants for the three worst campuses. However, they started conducting hearings with Harvard, UPenn, and MIT. The committee has also conducted hearings with ColumbiaNorthwestern, Rutgers, and UCLA

“They did not acquit themselves particularly well, I think it’s safe to say,” said Eden, a research fellow for AEI, referring to the university’s president’s testimonies during the hearings. According to Eden, most Americans were astonished at how poorly the university presidents handled the protests. 

Eden pointed out that college campus protestors cannot articulate what or why they are protesting, but they hide behind political buzzwords. One of the phrases protestors tout when asked to defend their actions is ‘academic freedom.’ 

“Well, I think it’s a favorite trope of the people in the universities is, ‘no, you can’t look at what we do here. You can’t hold us accountable because then you’re impinging on academic freedom,'” said Foxx. “Well, look, the American people are pouring billions of dollars every year into these institutions. And yes, we have a right to hold them accountable for how the money is being spent. And there’s a difference between free speech in antisemitism, a huge difference between the two. Anti-Semitism is not acceptable under academic freedom, which is totally different from free speech.”

Foxx also explained why she no longer refers to universities as ‘institutions of higher education’ and how that relates to this discussion. 

“I think what the post-secondary institutions — see, I don’t call them institutions of higher education anymore. Because I’ve been saying this for several years, I use the term post-secondary because I don’t think they’re teaching higher-order skills. And I think for you to call them institutions of higher education, they should be teaching higher-order skills, and I don’t think they are. So, what the institutions of post-secondary education want is just giving them all the money in the world that they asked for and leaving them alone. Then if you do try to hold them accountable, they’ll scream academic freedom.”

Freedom of speech is the second term brought up by Eden that protestors use in self-defense.

“The other defense is it’s either academic freedom or it’s freedom of speech, right?” asked Eden. “And this is what Claudine Gay got so famously tripped up over, and her line was, well, when speech rolls into conduct, that was the best that she could do to answer this question of how do we square one imperative for free speech and other imperative for this kind of speech. What’s your answer to that? What would you have said if you were her? What would you say to that?”

Foxx said they don’t truly understand free speech because they don’t understand the concept of it. She referenced a bill introduced on March 15 by Rep. Brandon Williams, R-NY, HR 7683, Respecting the First Amendment on Campus. 

“What we’re trying to do is make sure that campuses do a better job of understanding, having students understand, what their rights are, under the Constitution, in terms of free speech, and what the restraints are on the colleges and universities when they try to constrain free speech,” said Foxx concerning the bill. 

Eden asked Foxx to address the relationship between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) on campus and antisemitism. 

“The left is great at appropriating language,” said Foxx. “Who doesn’t like diversity, equity, and inclusion? Those words sound terrific until you peel them back as to what they really mean. And I think the words have come to mean differently from what most people want them to mean.” 

Foxx explained that if we take these words at face value, we want a diverse population and people treated equitably, but, she argues, the meaning of the terms has been distorted.

“They think being treated equitably, not equal outcomes,” said Foxx. “But I think what it has really done is divide people into two groups of people. You’re either oppressed, or you’re an oppressor. And I think that’s what they have done with those words. So, it’s really troubling how words get distorted again, from what people who are not quote ‘on the inside’ are not a part of the group that’s using those words, for nefarious purposes, what they think they mean and what the others think they mean.”

Foxx also discussed legislation concerning foreign money on college campuses. During the Trump administration, Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, noticed that colleges and universities were not reporting foreign gifts, as section 217 of the Higher Education Act required. 

“So, we have passed a bill out of the House called ‘the Deterrent Act’ because we’re very concerned with what impact foreign money can have on institutions,” Foxx said. “And you’re right; I think the amount of money that Northwestern has gotten is like $600 million from Qatar. Now, most people don’t give away, or even most countries don’t give away $600 million without expecting something in return,” said Foxx. 

North Carolina colleges and universities played host to a handful of Confucius Institutes, financed by the Chinese Communist Party and suspected as a vehicle for propaganda and influence, that involved such foreign donations. Alarm over the foreign influence led to the closure of Confucius Institutes in North Carolina, such as UNC Charlotte.