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Columbia University President to testify in congress


The president of Columbia University was on Capitol Hill today testifying about how the school has handled antisemitic incidents on campus. This comes several months after another widely publicized hearing on the Hill, where lawmakers interrogated the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania. NPR's Elissa Nadworny is here to discuss it. Hey, Elissa.


SHAPIRO: How did the hearing go today?

NADWORNY: Well, today's testimony in front of the House Education Committee lasted more than three hours. It was a long hearing, reminiscent of that December hearing that led, in part, to the ouster of the presidents of Penn and Harvard. But there were some really big differences. One was that the Columbia representatives agreed with the committee that antisemitism was a serious problem on its campus. I want you to hear this early exchange with Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat from Oregon.


SUZANNE BONAMICI: Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Columbia's code of conduct?

DAVID GREENWALD: Yes, it does.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN: Yes, it does.

MINOUCHE SHAFIK: Yes, it does.

DAVID SCHIZER: Yes, it does.

NADWORNY: So you hear her there. The president of Columbia, Minouche Shafik, two trustees and a law professor all say yes very clearly. So that was a big difference from back in December. In many other answers, they agreed with lawmakers' anger and said they had work to do on their campus. Here's Shafik.


SHAFIK: I'm very personally committed to making sure that our faculty do not cross the line in terms of discrimination and harassment. We have mechanisms that are now being enforced. And on my watch, they will be enforced.

SHAPIRO: Elissa, back in December, lawmakers got pretty combative. Did that happen today, too?

NADWORNY: Well, we did see some lawmakers pushing pretty hard, especially on President Shafik, often interrupting answers. I want to listen to some of those interactions where lawmakers brought up specific incidents where professors had made comments in support of Hamas. You're going to hear first from Democrat Kathy Manning of North Carolina and then Republican Tim Walberg of Michigan.


KATHY MANNING: Why is that professor still teaching at Columbia?

SHAFIK: He has been spoken to.

TIM WALBERG: He's been spoken to? I have your answer.

ELISE STEFANIK: What was he told? Any other disciplinary actions taken?

NADWORNY: So that last voice you heard was Republican Elise Stefanik of New York, who, I don't know if you remember, but in December, of course, had extensive back-and-forths with witnesses. She did the same thing today.

SHAPIRO: Well, what does the university say, going forward, it intends to do?

NADWORNY: Well, during the hearing, Columbia administrators said they had created a task force on antisemitism. They said they had disciplined dozens of students, suspended students who participated in unauthorized events. Shafik repeatedly said that education was going to be key. She vowed to include lessons on antisemitism at orientation for new students. And after the hearing, I checked in with Jacob Schmeltz. He's an undergraduate student at Columbia who is Jewish, and he watched the hearing with a lot of other students from Columbia.

JACOB SCHMELTZ: I'm really happy that they finally state - made a really clear statement that this is an issue and acknowledged just how difficult it has been for Jewish students over the last six months.

NADWORNY: He says now he's looking to see if the administrators actually follow through with their actions. You know, they committed to things like holding professors who have made antisemitic statements in the past accountable, of course, changing some policies and adding more education. So he is going to look to see if that will make the campus climate feel better.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Elissa Nadworny, who covers higher education for us. Thanks, Elissa.

NADWORNY: You bet, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.