Columbia University President to Participate in Congressional Hearing on Campus Antisemitism

The president of Columbia University in New York City has agreed to appear before the same congressional committee that last fall questioned Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania leaders about campus antisemitism.

Scheduled for mid-April, Minouche Shafik will testify before the House education panel, as announced by the committee on Monday. Joining her will be David Greenwald and Claire Shipman, co-chairs of the university’s board of trustees.

On Monday, two civil liberties organizations filed a lawsuit in New York County Supreme Court against Columbia University, claiming that the administrators unlawfully suspended two anti-Zionist student groups in November. The New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal accused the university of violating its own policies to penalize the Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace clubs.

The increasing criticism from advocates for both Jewish and Palestinian rights highlights the frustration with the university’s administration on the Manhattan campus, which faced conflicting protests after Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7. This situation also emphasizes the challenges universities face in balancing free speech and protecting students and faculty from discrimination and violence over the last five months.

Representative Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., who chairs the House education committee, cited antisemitic incidents on Columbia’s campus in Manhattan. A Jewish student reported to Jewish Insider last month that he was physically harassed by a pro-Palestinian protestor outside the school’s gates.

“Due to the severe and pervasive nature of these cases, and the Columbia administration’s failure to enforce its own policies to protect Jewish students, the Committee must hear from Columbia’s leadership in person to learn how the school is addressing antisemitism on its campus,” Foxx stated.

Pro-Palestinian Student Concerns Overlooked by House Republicans

There is no mention by the Republican congresswoman of the impact on pro-Palestinian and Muslim students amid recent tensions.

In January, the New York Police Department initiated an investigation into an incident where a chemical spray was used on a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Columbia University faced backlash after abruptly defunding the two anti-Zionist groups in the fall. Reports suggest that the administration quietly changed the school’s event policy before taking action against the clubs, which were causing disruptions with their protests.

Read more:NYPD probing reported chemical attack against students during pro-Palestinian protest at Columbia

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, criticized the university for disregarding its own policies. She emphasized the importance of upholding free speech principles in higher education institutions.

“That’s retaliatory, it’s targeted, and it flies in the face of the free speech principles that institutes of higher learning should be defending,” Lieberman stated. “Students protesting at private colleges still have the right to fair, equal treatment – and we are ready to fight that battle in court.”

Columbia spokesperson Samantha Slater stated that the university does not comment on ongoing litigation. Regarding the upcoming congressional hearing, Slater affirmed Columbia’s commitment to combating antisemitism.

“We welcome the opportunity to discuss our work to protect and support Jewish students and keep our community safe,” Slater expressed.

Shafik was initially requested to testify in a contentious hearing in December, which led to the departure of Harvard’s Claudine Gay and Penn’s Liz Magill from their positions. Shafik did not attend that hearing due to prior travel commitments.

Read more:University presidents face investigation, walk back responses after heated hearing on antisemitism

A University of Chicago study released this month estimated that 2-3 million college students have felt personally threatened since the conflict began in October. The study indicated that about one in five students feared for their safety due to their stance on Israel or Palestinians. 

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