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Columbia disciplined professors over Gaza views – breaking news

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Columbia disciplined professors over Gaza views – breaking news

Columbia University’s president says the school has disciplined and terminated professors over their views on Palestine.

On Wednesday, President Minouche Shafik became the latest school leader to be grilled by the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The probe is ostensibly focused on antisemitism on college campuses but has been almost entirely dedicated to policing pro-Palestine activism.

“Antisemitism has no place on our campus, and I am personally committed to doing everything I can to confront it directly,” Shafik told the panel. “Israel was brutally attacked by Hamas terrorists and very soon it became clear that these horrific events would ignite fear and anguish across our campus.”

Throughout the course of the hearing, Shafik was questioned about specific professors. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) asked about Mohamed Abdo, who was hired as a visiting scholar at the school for the Spring 2024 semester. On October 11 Abdo made a social media post that expressed solidarity with Hamas.

“He has been terminated,” Shafik assured Stefanik. “[He will] never teach at Columbia again and that will be on his permanent record,” she added.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) was one of the committee members who pressed Shafik on Dr. Joseph Massad, a tenured professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University.

Massad faced backlash last October after he published an essay at Electronic Intifada referring to the “innovative Palestinian resistance.” Walberg demanded to know whether Massad faced any consequences for such statements.

Shafik said that Massad had been “spoken to” and removed from an academic review panel over his views and confirmed that he was currently part of a wider investigation, that also includes Katherine Franke, a Columbia law professor who has said IDF soldiers shouldn’t be on campus.

Pro-Palestine students have faced a wave of campus suppression at Columbia since last fall, but Shafik’s comments coincide with a more aggressive crackdown on activism at the school.

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Earlier this month four students were suspended and evicted from campus housing for organizing a Palestine event on campus.

The event, “Resistance 101”, took place on March 24 and featured Palestinian activist Khaled Barakat. Barakat has been accused of being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated as the United States government as a terrorist organization. Barakat denies any affiliation with the group.

In addition to suspending the students involved in the organizing, the school says they contacted local law enforcement over the issue and launched an investigation into the meeting through a third-party firm.

“I realize that our campus has been deeply shaken by the war between Israel and Hamas, starting Oct. 7 with the horrific Hamas terrorist attack in Israel, and now unfolding as a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said Shafik in a statement regarding the school’s response. “I did not become a university president to punish students. At the same time, actions like this on our campus must have consequences. That I would ever have to declare the following is in itself surprising, but I want to make clear that it is absolutely unacceptable for any member of this community to promote the use of terror or violence.”

Columbia isn’t the only school to take strong measures against student activists in recent weeks.

Vanderbilt University just expelled three students, suspended one, and issued 22 of them with disciplinary probations. These actions came in response to a sit-in at the school’s Kirkland Hall, which was organized because the administration canceled a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution vote that had been proposed by the student government.

“This latest crackdown at Vanderbilt goes back to earlier this year when the students gathered more than 600 signatures for a campus-wide referendum on divestment (three times as many as required), but the administration abruptly and unilaterally pulled the measure from the ballot,” Palestine Legal attorney Tori Porell explained to breaking news. “The students had been trying diligently to pursue their goals through the official, and sanctioned channels, but when they were prevented from doing so by the administration, they took other action.”

“Now, by tying up dozens of students with burdensome disciplinary proceedings, the students are effectively prevented from pursuing their original aim,” she continued. “The students at Vanderbilt were extremely confident that their resolution would pass, but now their energy is diverted elsewhere, which is exactly what the University wants. With support for BDS resolutions gaining traction on campuses across the country, I think University administrators are resorting to harsher and harsher punishments to stem the tide of student organizing.”

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Pomona College President Gabi Starr called riot police to the school after students occupied her office as part of sit-in for divestment. The Claremont Consortium Faculty for Justice in Palestine put out a statement on the development.

“The mission of a liberal arts institution is to cultivate our students’ capacity for  critical thinking, to help them understand the workings of power, to offer them tools to challenge  systems of oppression, and to empower them to speak out about the important issues of the day,” it reads. “The force employed by the college in the face of nonviolent protest contradicts these values, and criminalizes students’ protected rights of speech and protest. By bringing in militarized police,  the college has also put already marginalized students at serious and wholly unnecessary risk – especially Black students and other students of color, who disproportionately bear the brunt of  police brutality and incarceration.”

These increasingly aggressive tactics certainly don’t appear to be deterring student activism or support for Palestine.

Ahead of Shafik’s hearing appearance, the group Columbia University Apartheid Divest launched a Gaza Solidarity Encampment on the main quad of the school. On Twitter Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) expressed her support for the students.

“Columbia has always had an incredible history of students fighting for a more just world and it’s good to see that tradition continue,” she wrote. “As NYPD surrounds young activists, I hope their concerns are heard by school administrators and they not be criminalized. In solidarity.”

At the time of publishing, three Barnard students had already been suspended for participation in the encampment.

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The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has launched antisemitism probes into multiple schools and will continue to push school presidents on the issue of Israel in the coming weeks.

These investigations have less to do with antisemitism and more with the extreme Right trying to control one of the very few remaining places where dissent and progressive ideas can flourish,” Stanford University professor and Stanford Faculty for Justice in Palestine co-founder David Palumbo-Liu told breaking news. “Politicians, aided by conservative think tanks, cannot tolerate diversity of thought or opinion. Unfortunately for them, the more repressive they are the more they strengthen the case against them, on Palestine, on reproductive rights and sexuality, on race and class.

“Ultimately they’ve already lost. And university administrators who capitulate to these attempts to extort them just look weak and clueless. It’s time to stand up to these McCarthyite tactics, and stand with students and faculty, not sell them out.”

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