President of Columbia University Dr. Nemat (Minoeche) Shafik testifies during a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

New York Columbia University’s governing body backed President Nemat Shafik amid escalating demands for her resignation, spurred by student-led protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The New York school has shifted to offering hybrid options for classes since the arrest on Monday of more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters who defied police orders to vacate an on-campus encampment.

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The demonstration followed Shafik’s testimony before a House committee over the university’s response to antisemitism on campus.

In a statement late Wednesday, the board of trustees said it supports Shafik and her approach to managing the diversity of voices on campus, saying it aligns with the promise she made during her appointment process.

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The economist, who was born in Alexandria, Egypt and goes by Minuoche, was hired last year to succeed Lee Bollinger. Shafik stood out as a champion of diversity and inclusion at the London School of Economics & Political Science, according to a statement at the time.

“We are urgently working with her to help resolve the situation on campus and rebuild the bonds of our community,” the trustees said. “We encourage everyone who cares about Columbia to join us in that effort.”

The board’s endorsement comes in the wake of bipartisan calls for Shafik to step down, led by Republican Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, and Senators Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, and Pennsylvania Democrat John Fetterman, citing her handling of campus antisemitism and safety concerns.

Spate of rallies

Echoing Columbia’s unrest, a spate of rallies has swept across US colleges, including Ivy League institutions Harvard and Yale, along with the University of Michigan and University of California at Berkeley.

Tensions flared late Wednesday as law enforcement, some on horseback, arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Texas at Austin. A similar scene unfolded at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where demonstrations in support of Palestine also led to more than 90 arrests. Provost Andrew Guzman accused many of the participants of not being affiliated with USC and said the gates to the campus will be closed to restrict growth of the disruptions.

The protesters have rallied around demands for colleges to divest from companies with ties to Israel, an end to US military aid, and a halt to disciplinary action against protesting students.

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson visited Columbia on Wednesday to meet with Jewish students and deliver remarks on what his office called the “troubling rise of virulent antisemitism on America’s college campuses.”

Johnson, speaking while overlooking the Columbia encampment, said if threats continue it may be appropriate for President Joe Biden to call in the National Guard.

“We can’t allow this kind of hatred and antisemitism to flourish, and we must stop it in its tracks,” Johnson said, as some students booed and chanted pro-Palestinian slogans.