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US Congress Grills Top University Presidents For Handling Of Pro-Palestinian Protests On Campus

24.05.2024 09:42

UCLA, Northwestern, Rutgers at center of this round of scrutiny.

The leaders of three top US universities were grilled by Congress on Thursday for their handling of pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

The presidents of the University of California, University of Los Angeles (UCLA), Rutgers University in New Jersey, and Northwestern University in Illinois were scrutinized by the House Education and Workforce Committee about their handling of pro-Palestinian rallies and encampments at their respective schools.

In particular, both Rutgers and Northwestern were criticized for their decisions to end student occupations through negotiations rather than the use of police force.

"We had to get the encampment down," Northwestern president Michael Schill testified. "The police solution was not going to be available to us to keep people safe, and also may not be the wisest solution as we've seen at other campuses across the country."

Both Rutgers and Northwestern said they considered police action, but decided it was best to negotiate peacefully and in a way that defused the danger without caving in to the demands of the protesters.

"We made a choice. That choice was to engage our students through dialogue as a first option instead of police action," said Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway. "We had seen what transpired at other universities and sought a different way."

UCLA came under fire for its delayed police response to the violence that broke out between pro-Palestinian protesters and counterprotesters. US Rep. Virginia Foxx, who chairs the committee, gave a stern admonishment to UCLA Chancellor Gene Block for the school's inaction.

"For days, you stood by as Jews were assaulted and illegal checkpoints blocked access to campus in broad daylight," said Foxx. "Your actions were too little, too late."

Block acknowledged that the encampment disrupted classes, but did not give a direct answer as to why he did not call for police intervention sooner.

"I am fully aware that many of our Jewish students have had to confront rhetoric and images on campus that any reasonable person would find repugnant. Trust me, I understand their pain," said Block, who is Jewish.

"Tragically, it took several hours for law enforcement to quell the violence," Block continued. "With the benefit of hindsight, we should have been prepared to immediately remove the encampment if and when the safety of our community was put at risk."

Accused of antisemitism

Republican committee members chastised Rutgers and Northwestern for tolerating antisemitism by striking deals with students to end or limit protests. Neither school agreed to sever business ties with Israel, which was one of the protesters' primary demands. However, Rutgers agreed to discuss the topic and Northwestern revived a committee on investment responsibility, according to media outlets.

Other terms of the negotiations focused on expanding institutional support for Muslim and Arab students and scholars on campus, with Rutgers promising not to retaliate against those who participated in protests. That evoked a scathing rebuke from the committee.

"Each of you should be ashamed of your decisions that allowed antisemitic encampments to endanger Jewish students," said Foxx. "Mr. Schill and Dr. Holloway, you should be doubly ashamed for capitulating to the antisemitic rule breakers."

Four students have been suspended at Rutgers, but so far, no students have been expelled from any of the three schools. However, the university presidents testified that there are dozens of ongoing investigations.

"The fact that we have not yet suspended or expelled students does not mean that students have not received discipline," said Schill. "There's a wide range of discipline, and discipline has been meted out to many of those students."

More than 3,000 people have been arrested across the US since the pro-Palestinian protests began on college campuses in April.

Thursday's hearing is part of a series of hearings being held by Congress to examine how universities have responded to allegations of antisemitism. Other universities that have been interrogated by the committee include Harvard University in Massachusetts, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Pennsylvania. -

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