Columbia officials dodge pitfalls that caught Harvard, Penn

A quartet of Columbia University officials largely avoided a viral breakout moment in a Wednesday House hearing on antisemitism, but they still struggled in multiple areas when peppered with questions from Republican lawmakers.

The viral question that last year stumped the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was asked early of the Columbia officials.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) asked all four witnesses if calls for the genocide of Jewish people would violate the school’s Code of Conduct.

The president of the school, two members of the board of trustees, and a professor all answered in the affirmative.

“Yes, it does,” said David Greenwald, co-chair of the board.

Their willingness to more directly condemn antisemitism and to recognize its pervasiveness on campus was celebrated by multiple lawmakers.

“My thoughts are that you are right that we have a moral crisis on our campus,” said Claire Shipman, the other co-chair for the board of trustees, adding “you’re probably tired of hearing that I find the behavior of some of our students, some of our faculty, unacceptable.”

The hearing was not all smooth sailing, however, as Columbia President Nemat Shafik struggled in some of her answers relating to defining antisemitism and if chants such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine would be free” are antisemitic.

David Schizer, a professor at the law school and chair of the antisemitism taskforce, said that chant was antisemitic.

Shafik initially said it depends, as some individuals, even Jewish people, are not offended by the chant, but later when pushed by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) Shafik said the school was “looking at” disciplinary actions for students who use the phrase.

“When I hear those terms, I find them very upsetting,” Shafik said when first asked about the chant. When pushed again if it’s antisemitic, the president continued, “I hear them as such, some people don’t.”

Much of the hearing focused on disciplinary actions taken against professors or students who have engaged in controversial or antisemitic behavior on campus.

Columbia professor Joseph Andoni Massad received a lot of attention after he celebrated Hamas’s attack on Oct. 7. Shafik originally said the professor was already terminated but then later told Stefanik she would commit to firing Massad from his position as chair of an academic review committee.

Democrats decried during the hearing that other forms of discrimination have not been a priority of the committee.

“I think the Office of Civil Rights had indicated that they get a lot more complaints from racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and trans students and those also need to be addressed,” ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said.

While the hearing was more successful for Columbia, Education Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) indicated the school was not out of the hot seat.

“While some changes have begun on campus, there is still a significant amount of work to be done,” Foxx said.

“We will be looking for answers to the questions that have been raised today in a very timely fashion and we are prepared to bring you back if we don’t see more tangible progress,” she added.

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