Columbia University president testified about anti-Semitism on campus – NPR

Columbia University president testified about anti-Semitism on campus – NPR

Columbia University President Nemat Shafik testified before the House Education Committee alongside a Columbia University law professor and two administrators.

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Columbia University President Nemat Shafik testified before the House Education Committee alongside a Columbia University law professor and two administrators.

Tom Williams/Getty Images

A little deja vu happened on the Hill on Wednesday.

The president of Columbia University testified about how the school responded to anti-Semitic incidents on campus after Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and to the Israeli military response in Gaza.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish students on college campuses experienced a “sharp increase” in anti-Semitic incidents after October 7.

Wednesday’s hearing is reminiscent of another hearing on anti-Semitism, held in December, when members of the House Education Committee questioned the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. Two of those presidents ended up resigning, in part because of this hearing.

But there were stark differences between the hearings, including whether Columbia representatives agreed with lawmakers that anti-Semitism was a serious problem on campus.

“This is neither tolerated nor acceptable,” said Colombian President Nemat Shafik, “and over the past six months we have done everything we can and worked tirelessly to improve our policies and their application.”

Shafik testified alongside a Columbia University law professor and two administrators.

When Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat from Oregon, asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated Colombia’s code of conduct, all four of Colombia’s representatives responded clearly: “Yes, it does.”

Their response contrasts with the December hearing, in which the presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT answered the same question in a legalistic manner that was criticized for lacking moral clarity.

Many responses from Columbia officials acknowledged they had work to do. “You’re right,” Columbia trustee Claire Shipman responded to a lawmaker, “we have a moral crisis on our campus.”

During the hearing, some lawmakers — including Tim Walberg, a Republican from Michigan, and Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York — focused on specific incidents involving Columbia professors who made comments in support of Hamas.

They frequently interrupted Columbia officials to ask what disciplinary actions had been taken and whether professors were still teaching at Columbia. In response, university leaders pledged to hold professors accountable for any anti-Semitic speech.

Representatives from Colombia said they had created a working group on anti-Semitism. They said dozens of students were disciplined and those who participated in unauthorized events were suspended. Shafik has repeatedly said education is key, and she has pledged to include lessons on anti-Semitism during new student orientations.

Jacob Schmeltz, a political science student at Columbia and co-vice president of the Jewish student union on campus, watched Wednesday’s hearing with his fellow students.

“I’m really happy that they finally made a very clear statement that this is a problem and that they recognized how difficult it has been for Jewish students over the last six month,” he said.

He says he will monitor whether administrators are following through on commitments they made at the hearing, such as holding professors accountable and educating students about anti-Semitism. He hopes this kind of monitoring will help improve the climate on campuses at Columbia and elsewhere.

“This issue has completely taken over the campus since October 7,” he said.

“I hope we continue to center the experiences of Jewish students on these other campuses and continue to combat anti-Semitism across the country.”

The consequences of the December hearing

The December hearing with the presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn was marked by high tension and headline-grabbing consequences. Much of this was due to tough questions from Stefanik, who refused to accept the presidents’ vague, prepared answers.

Just days after the hearing, Penn President Elizabeth Magill resigned.

Less than a month later, Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned following accusations of plagiarism.

Stefanik celebrated the resignations by tweeting “Two down. One to take away.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth remains in office.

“It’s impossible to gain an audience”

Before the hearing, in a letter to the campus community, Shafik said she was ready to “share what we have learned as we fight this long-standing hatred at Columbia University.”

Rep. Virginia Foxx, the committee’s Republican chairwoman, said in a news release that she called the hearing because “some of the worst cases of anti-Semitic attacks, harassment and vandalism on campus have occurred at the Columbia University.

“It’s impossible to win an audience, but it’s easy to lose an audience and end up on television,” said Christopher Armstrong, a lawyer at Holland & Knight who advises clients on how to respond to congressional investigations.

He said Columbia lawmakers and representatives had the benefit of studying that December hearing and having ample time to prepare — and it showed.

“I think the witnesses approached this hearing today in a very frank and sincere manner. It was clear that they recognized that this is a very real challenge on campuses and that colleges across the board the country is struggling.”

Investigations into Colombia

Columbia is under investigation by the House Education Committee for “the inadequacy of Columbia’s response to anti-Semitism on its campus,” according to a letter the committee sent to the school.

At the end of Wednesday’s hearing, Foxx left open the possibility that the commission would convene another hearing focused on Colombia. She told school officials: “We are prepared to bring you back if we do not see more tangible progress.” »

Columbia is also among a number of universities under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education regarding alleged civil rights violations following October 7.

Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, several Jewish professors at Columbia and its sister school, Barnard College, warned of the “weaponization” of anti-Semitism on college campuses. “And we advocate for a campus where all students, Jewish, Palestinian and everyone in between, can learn and thrive in a climate of open and honest inquiry and rigorous debate.”


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