Veritas to Falsitas: Universities Have Abandoned Truth

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on June 1, 2024, to correct an inaccuracy regarding Sarah Lawrence College’s 2024 graduation ceremony. Initially, it was stated that graduating students were seen in an Instagram post chanting “from the river to the sea” during the commencement address. Instead, students held anti-Israel signs, and the chanting, initially thought to be from the students in the video, is actually an audio recording overlaid on the video.

The word “truth,” whether in English, Latin (veritas), or Hebrew (emet), appears in countless college and university mottos. From California State University’s Vox veritas vita—“Speak the truth as a way of life”to Harvard’s simple Veritas, the emphasis on truth is a cornerstone of academic values. Yet, this critical concept seems to be something far too many college presidents fail to grasp. The ability to speak actual truth—to actively describe facts and reality along with their pursuit—has faded into the background in higher education as the religious ideology of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) has become dominant. The anti-Semitic mobs, pro-Hamas protests, and divestment encampments serve as powerful proof of the disastrous results of the DEI worldview. Despite numerous Title VI inquiries, legal complaints, and Congressional inquiries, college presidents continually fail to speak the truth.

Regrettably, there are far too many instances of college presidents failing to uphold honesty in their roles as leaders of these important institutions. One of the most notable examples involves Minouche Shafik, the president of Columbia University, who has done almost nothing to protect Jewish students on her campus or to confront the pervasive hate within the school’s faculty, staff, students, and administration.

During the House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearings, Shafik—after witnessing the repercussions faced by former Harvard president Claudine Gay—failed to tell the truth. When questioned about the dangerous behavior of pro-Hamas Columbia University professor Mohamed Abdou, Shafik testified that she would ensure he was permanently expelled from the school. She explicitly stated under oath, “He has been terminated, not just terminated, but his files will show that he will never work at Columbia again.”

However, this was a blatant falsehood.

Abdou not only told a reporter, “I’m not fired, I’m not. I wasn’t hired in October, it was all a sham of a lie,” but was also deeply involved in subsequent encampment protests and eventually the violent takeover of a university building.

This prompted Rep. Elise Stefanik to correctly observe, “Columbia President Shafik lied to Congress multiple times about radical pro-terror professor Mohamed Abdou’s employment status. Despite her testimony otherwise, Abdou has been rallying at Columbia’s anti-Semitic encampment promoting Jewish hate … This directly contradicts Shafik’s testimony.”

While Shafik is one of the most notable and public cases of presidential veracity falling by the wayside, misrepresenting reality is happening everywhere. A disturbing example worth noting just recently happened at my own school, Sarah Lawrence College, concerning our most recent commencement featuring the U.S. Surgeon General.

Approximately a week after the event itself, the school’s president sent out her monthly “From the President’s Desk” letter to the community, where she noted that the recent ceremony was “a poignant reminder of the power of togetherness.” She continued to state that it is her “firm belief that our commitment to Sarah Lawrence Together is what has sustained us through the challenges that have come our way and will sustain us into the future.” She then extended her “thanks to the graduates for their resilience, care, and respect for one another.”

While these statements are a bland set of platitudes, the president failed to mention that the commencement was disrupted by anti-Semitic protesters. Though many schools have had such disruptions, the issue here is that the president has now publicly pretended that nothing happened and presented a narrative that the school exemplifies respect and unity to the world. This is simply a lie.

During the commencement, students held up anti-Israel signs that read, “Gaza’s children do not get to graduate.” And, Sarah Lawrence Alumni for Justice in Palestine group further amplified their stance, posting a video of the students on Instagram accompanied by a voice-over saying, “from the river to the sea.” The post’s caption read in part, “We’re so damn proud of you for disrupting commencement to once again amplify students’ demands EVERYWHERE to disclose and DIVEST from Israel.”

A disruption of anti-Israel sentiment means that it was not “a poignant reminder of the power of togetherness.”

Such calls are not civil. They are threatening and dangerous, run afoul of the school’s values and core principles of mutual respect, and are intimidating to Jewish students and those in the larger campus Jewish community. Even if one wants to claim that such calls were purely political, he or she must admit at some point, the meaning was changed to a violent call of action against Jews. Even the now liberal and unbalanced New York Times has admitted that the chant is problematic, noting that it “has also been adopted over the years by Hamas, which calls for the annihilation of Israel, taking on a darker meaning that has long shaped the way in which it is received.”

The ceremony was anything but unified and showed little care for a large segment of the community. But the president chose to ignore this truth and peddle a false narrative at the expense of many Jewish students. She may even somehow try to justify it under her impending Title VI investigation since the idea of “truth” is nowhere to be found in the school’s own statement of values.

While the lies told by the Sarah Lawrence president is a small story compared to the varied lies told at bigger schools—Harvard, where President Garber decided to talk tough with suspensions over the anti-Semitic encampment in Harvard Yard and then lied to the larger community by walking back some of the student punishments—the fact remains that many leaders of our nation’s colleges and universities are peddling falsehoods about their campuses.

While there are bright spots, such as President Sasse at the University of Florida and President Roberts at the University of North Carolina, many leaders in our higher education system are failing to uphold one of the core values their institutions are meant to promote, discover, and protect: the truth.

Understandably, public trust in higher education continues to decline rapidly because people are seeing the reality that exists on colleges today. Reforming higher education to promote real inclusion and curiosity must now be a priority for the public, trustees, alumni, donors, and students. Higher education has been our nation’s core strength and an innovation and inclusion engine. Replacing these leaders as soon as possible would be a powerful step forward in restoring and protecting these vital American institutions.

Image by tauav — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 84149126 — Translation: I am the truth and the way of the world


  • Samuel J. Abrams

    Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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