Privately if not always publicly, other women in the academy described a similar reaction to the spectacle around the hearing on Dec. 5 and the fallout since: Ms. Magill and Dr. Gay resigned, their critics made it clear they were coming for Dr. Kornbluth, and last week, prominent male donors demanded the ouster of Cornell president Martha Pollack, too.
Almost invariably, the women will run through a list of qualifiers and questions. Yes, there might have been plagiarism, in the case of Dr. Gay, and the issue of race to consider. Yes, the presidents sounded so lawyerly, so coached, at the hearing: Why couldn’t they have more passionately declared their opposition to slogans encouraging genocide?
But then there are the suspicions in the other direction: If the question was safety, why didn’t Congress summon the (male) presidents of Yale and the University of Chicago, where pro-Palestinian groups occupied quads and administrative offices?
Underlying all the conversations was the most maddening, familiar and ultimately unanswerable question of all: Would a man have been treated the same way?
Nancy Gertner, a law professor at Harvard and a retired federal judge who filed some of the earliest lawsuits on behalf of women denied tenure in the 1980s and 90s, said the measure of discrimination in those cases was whether women were subject to stricter scrutiny, or held to a different standard. To her mind, both were true for the female presidents.