USA

Republicans demand disciplinary action against student protesters during House hearing

House Republicans used words like “violence,” “hijacking” and “chaos.” They questioned university leaders about why so few protesters had been suspended. They showed videos and wielded a document with a bright red “F” grade.

Leaders at Northwestern, Rutgers and the University of California, Los Angeles, responded with statements such as “due process,” “appropriate punishment” and “task force.”

During the third Congressional hearing with university presidents on Thursday, Republicans asked them pointed questions about the pro-Palestinian encampments that protesting students have set up on their campuses and campuses across the country in response to the war between Israel and Hamas.

But university leaders appeared to learn lessons from previous hearings and tried to avoid angering Republicans on the committee or members of their own institutions. They acknowledged some missteps and pledged to do more to combat anti-Semitism, while also pushing back against some of the allegations that have been leveled against them.

The result was something of a culture clash, with Republicans acting like prosecutors, demanding yes-or-no answers from witnesses as they tried to provoke the kind of damaging moment that helped topple the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves for your decisions that allowed anti-Semitic camps to endanger Jewish students,” Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and the committee chair, told the leaders, including two of them — Michael Schill of Northwestern and Jonathan Holloway of Rutgers — who made deals with protesters to end their camps.

“Mr. Schill and Dr. Holloway,” said Dr. Foxx, “you should be doubly ashamed of yourselves for pandering to the anti-Semitic rule breakers.”

University leaders tried to counter the attacks with calibrated responses. And they tried to explain why administrators had not immediately suspended or expelled some students accused of misconduct or hate.

“We at Northwestern believe there is due process,” Mr. Schill said under hostile questioning from Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York. “We believe in research.”

He declined to say how long such investigations would take, prompting Ms. Stefanik to say, “This is why you got a failing grade” from the Anti-Defamation League on its report card for anti-Semitism on campus.

Mr. Schill has faced some of the most critical questions about his decision to make a deal to end the protest encampment at Northwestern. The ADL is one of several groups that have called on him resign for what it called its “reprehensible and dangerous” agreement with activists.

Under the agreement, the students removed their tents in exchange for Northwestern agreeing to fund positions for two Palestinian faculty members for two years and to pay for the education of five Palestinian students. Northwestern also agreed to re-establish an investment responsibility advisory committee with student representatives and to answer questions about its assets. It did not agree to withdraw from Israel, as the protesters had demanded.

Ms. Stefanik called the agreement “unilateral capitulation to the pro-Hamas, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic camp.”

Mr Schill, who noted that he is Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, said that characterization was wrong.

“We have not given in to the protesters’ demands, and the commitments we have made are consistent with our values,” he said. Furthermore, he later added, “I believe we achieved a good result: we were able to end the major anti-Semitic event on our campus without violence.”

At one point the grilling was so testy that Mr. Schill told a Republican, “I’m really offended because you’re telling me what my opinion is.”

Dr. Holloway, the president of Rutgers, defended his decision to reach an agreement with the protesters as well. “They were not terrorists, as some have characterized them,” he said. “They were our students.”

Rutgers agreed to establish an Arab cultural center, consider setting up a Middle Eastern Studies department, and “provide support” for ten displaced Palestinian students to study at the university. It also promised not to retaliate against encampment participants — a pledge that Rep. Foxx denounced as “a blatant amnesty deal.”

Lisa Glass, the executive director of Rutgers Hillel, a Jewish campus organization, who has been critical of Dr. Holloway, said she thought he did “really well” at the hearing.

“I think his answers were thoughtful and they give me optimism,” she said.

Ms. Glass said that when the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Dr. Holloway called to testify, “it served as a positive catalyst for action,” prompting Rutgers to take steps toward establishing a Jewish Advisory Commission on Anti-Semitism and taking more action. be transparent about investigations into cases of bias.

When the time came for Dr. Holloway would testify, “he was in a pretty good place,” she said. “Now it’s time for us all to work together.”

Gene D. Block, the chancellor of UCLA, faced questions about the rampant violence that unfolded on his campus when pro-Israel counter-protesters attacked pro-Palestinian demonstrators, pepper-spraying them, beating them with wooden planks and shooting fireworks into their encampment, for hours without police intervention.

After the attack, UCLA called in police to clear the camp, resulting in more than 200 arrests. However, none of the counter-protesters were among those arrested, leading to accusations of a double standard in the treatment of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters.

Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota and one of three Muslim members of Congress, expanded on that point during the hearing, accusing Dr. Block of doing nothing while counterprotesters “attacked students that you were responsible for.”

“Are these people in jail?” she asked. “It’s been over a month.”

UCLA is conducting an investigation into the counterprotesters, but police have not made any arrests. Dr. Block said the Los Angeles Police Department helped identify the perpetrators of the violence and that he had tried to get police to the scene as quickly as possible.

“In hindsight, we should have been prepared to immediately remove the encampment if and when the safety of our community was at risk,” he said.

Ms. Omar pointed out that video footage showed police officers from the UCLA campus standing by as the violence unfolded.

“You should be ashamed of yourself for allowing this kind of violence,” Ms. Omar told Dr. Block.

Ms. Omar’s daughter was among the students at Barnard who were suspended for participating in a pro-Palestinian camp at Columbia University.

As the hearing was taking place, hundreds of students walked out of Harvard University’s commencement ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts, chanting “Let them walk!” a reference to 13 student protesters at Harvard who were denied graduation. While Harvard has not said what the students did wrong, official university statements indicated that protesters had cut the lock on a gate and harassed and intimidated staff members.

And at UCLA, students set up a new pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, barricading a patio with umbrellas, tables and crates.

With little indication that such protests would end, Dr. Foxx further action. “Today’s hearing is the beginning, and not the end, of this committee’s investigation into your institutions,” she said.

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