Columbia President Shafik’s most contentious moments at yesterday’s House hearing on antisemitism

Board of Trustees Co-Chair Clair Shipman conceded that Columbia's systems of rules and enforcement are "broken."

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik appeared before Congress in a hearing with the potential to shape the rest of her career as a higher education leader. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce brought Shafik into D.C. to answer questions related to the Ivy League’s ability to protect Jewish students from antisemitism, a reprise of a similar hearing last December, which brought an end to the presidents’ tenures at Harvard and UPenn.

Originally called upon to testify in December as well, Shafik declined due to a scheduling conflict. She arrived before Congress on Wednesday morning alongside David Schizer, a law and economic professor and founder of Columbia’s Center for Israeli Legal Studies, and Claire Shipman and David Greenwald, respective co-chairs of the Board of Trustees.

“Trying to reconcile the free speech rights of those who wanted to protest and the rights of Jewish students to be in an environment free of discrimination and harassment has been the central challenge at our campus and numerous others across the country,” Shafik said in an opening statement.

Some Republicans, such as Rep. Aaron Bean (R-Fla.), commented on Shafik’s stronger poise and direction in condemning antisemitism than her Harvard and UPenn counterparts. However, she repeatedly found herself in the tiger’s jaw from representatives’ fervent questions about institutional policies and safety protocols, some of which confounded the nine-month president.

Lack of punishment for “antisemitic” professors

Rep. Tim Walberg brought into question the ideological position of Joseph Massad, a tenured professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia, who used the words “awesome,” astonishing” and “astounding” to describe the Oct. 7 Hamas attack. When Walberg asked Shafik what disciplinary actions were taken for his positive reception of the attack that killed 1,200 Israelis, Shafik said “he’d been spoken to.”

Walberg balked at the statement and went on to describe anecdotes shared with him from some of Columbias’s Jewish students about how Massad had yelled at them for questioning his views.

“That’s free speech?” he asked. “That’s diversity?”

Shafik responded that the university had removed him from the chair of the academic review committee for Columbia’s school of arts and sciences but hadn’t removed him from the classroom. However, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) later informed her that he was still listed as chair of the committee on the university’s website at the time of the hearing. Consequently, Co-Chair Shipman conceded that Columbia’s systems of rules and enforcement were “broken.”

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) asked Shafik to provide communication on whether Mossad is under investigation and faces revocation of his position as chair as soon as the hearing concluded.

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Poor student oversight

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) remarked on a guidebook given to students at Columbia’s school of social work that defines the word “Ashkenormativity,” which the lawmaker described as a system of oppression that favors white Jewish individuals.

“This [guidebook] is handed out on your watch … It fosters an environment of antisemitism in your university,” Banks said. “This is what’s being fed to your students. It’s despicable. You haven’t done anything about it.”

Shafik responded by stating the guidebook he referred to was most likely produced by students and given to other students. Shipman said Columbia will be ensuring that any copy that resembles orientation material is run by the dean. Rep. Virginia Foxx, the committee chairwoman, asked the lawmakers to investigate whether the guidebook was funded through Columbia finances.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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