Columbia University president is set to testify about antisemitism on campus

Columbia University president is set to testify about antisemitism on campus

Audio will be available later today.

Enlarge this image

Nemat Shafik, president of Columbia University, will testify Wednesday about antisemitism on campus

Geert Vanden Wijngaert via AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Geert Vanden Wijngaert via AP

Nemat Shafik, president of Columbia University, will testify Wednesday about antisemitism on campus

Geert Vanden Wijngaert via AP

There is a little déjà vu happening on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

The president of Columbia University is set to testify about how the school has responded to antisemitic incidents since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s military response in Gaza.

Nemat Shafik, who goes by Minouche, will be attending the House Education Committee hearing alongside a Columbia University law professor and two trustees. In a letter to the campus community, Shafik said she’s prepared to “share what we have learned as we battle this ancient hatred at Columbia University.”

Jewish students on college campuses have experienced a “stark increase” in antisemitic incidents following Oct. 7, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.

Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Republican chair of the committee, said in a press release that she called the hearing because “some of the worst cases of antisemitic assaults, harassment, and vandalism on campus have occurred at Columbia University.”

This new testimony comes several months after another hearing on campus antisemitism, where lawmakers grilled the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. Columbia’s president was unable to attend that December hearing due to scheduling issues.

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

He says both lawmakers and the administrators from Columbia have had the benefit of studying that first hearing and having ample time to prepare.

“There’s an upside to that, and there’s also a downside,” Armstrong says. “The witness has a lot more time to prepare, to think about kind of any lines of attack, but the members on the Hill have also had that amount of time, making it a bit more unpredictable.”

Fallout from the December hearing

The December hearing with the presidents of Harvard, MIT and Penn saw high tension and headline-grabbing consequences. This was largely due to tough questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who refused to accept the presidents’ vague, prepared answers.

Just days after the hearing, Penn President Elizabeth Magill stepped down.

Less than a month later, Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, resigned following accusations of plagiarism.

Stefanik celebrated the resignations, posting on social media: “Two down. One to go.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth is still in her position.

Campus activism at Columbia has continued

At Columbia University, tensions have continued to escalate among students, and between students and the administration, since Oct. 7.

“People on campus are certainly paying attention to this hearing,” says Jacob Schmeltz, a senior at Columbia studying political science, and a co-vice president of the Jewish on Campus Student Union.

“This issue has completely consumed campus since Oct. 7. So I think everyone is just preparing and waiting to see what happens.”

He says he’s hoping the hearing doesn’t go the same way the December hearing went. “I hope this is a productive discussion that centers on the experience of Jewish students at Columbia and doesn’t become a hearing where various members of Congress use their platform for their own partisan political gain.”

Columbia is under investigation by the House committee holding Wednesday’s hearing for “the inadequacy of Columbia’s response to antisemitism on its campus,” according to a letter the committee sent to the school.

It’s also among a number of colleges under investigation by the U.S. Education Department regarding alleged civil rights violations in the wake of Oct 7.

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