In House Hearing, Republicans Demand Discipline for Student Protesters

In House Hearing, Republicans Demand Discipline for Student Protesters

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

The leaders of Northwestern, Rutgers and the University of California, Los Angeles, responded with phrases like “due process,” “appropriate penalties” and “task force.”

At the third congressional hearing on campus antisemitism on Thursday, Republicans sharply questioned the university leaders about the pro-Palestinian encampments that student protesters have pitched on their campuses and campuses across the country in response to the Israel-Hamas war.

But the university leaders seemed to draw lessons from previous hearings, and sought to avoid enraging either the Republicans on the committee or members of their own institutions. They acknowledged some missteps and promised to do more to combat antisemitism, while also pushing back against some of the accusations leveled against them.

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

“Each of you should be ashamed of your decisions that allowed antisemitic encampments to endanger Jewish students,” Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina and the chairwoman of the committee, told the leaders, including two — Michael Schill of Northwestern and Jonathan Holloway of Rutgers — who made deals with protesters to end their encampments.

“Mr. Schill and Dr. Holloway,” Dr. Foxx said, “you should be doubly ashamed for capitulating to the antisemitic rule-breakers.”

The university leaders tried to parry the attacks with calibrated responses. And they sought to explain why administrators had not immediately suspended or expelled some students accused of wrongdoing or hate.

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

He refused to say how long such investigations would take to complete, prompting Ms. Stefanik to say, “This why you’ve earned an F” from the Anti-Defamation League on its report card on campus antisemitism.

Mr. Schill faced the most critical questioning over his decision to strike a deal to end the protest encampment at Northwestern. The A.D.L. is one of several groups that have called on him to resign for what it called his “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 undergraduates. Northwestern also agreed to reestablish an advisory committee on investment responsibility, with student representatives, and to answer questions about its holdings. It did not agree to divest from Israel, as demonstrators had demanded.

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

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

“We did not give in to any of the protesters’ demands, and the commitments we made are consistent with our values,” he said. Furthermore, he added later, “I believe that we got a good result: We were able to get rid of the major antisemitic event on our campus with no violence.”

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

Rutgers agreed to establish an Arab cultural center, consider creating a department of Middle East studies, and “implement support” for 10 displaced Palestinian students to study at the university. It also promised not to retaliate against participants in the encampment — a pledge that Representative Foxx denounced as “an egregious amnesty deal.”

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

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

Ms. Glass said that when the House Committee on Education and the Workforce summoned Dr. Holloway to testify, “it served as a positive catalyst for action,” prompting Rutgers to move toward the formation of a Jewish advisory committee on antisemitism and to be more transparent about investigations into incidents of bias.

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

Gene D. Block, the chancellor of U.C.L.A., faced questions about the unchecked violence that unfolded on his campus when pro-Israel counterprotesters attacked pro-Palestinian demonstrators, spraying them with pepper spray, beating them with wooden boards, and shooting fireworks into their encampment, with no police intervention for hours.

After the attack, U.C.L.A. called in the police to clear the encampment, resulting in more than 200 arrests. None of the counterprotesters, however, were among those arrested, leading to accusations of a double standard in the treatment of Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators.

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

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

U.C.L.A. is leading an investigation into the counterprotesters but its police department has not yet made any arrests. Dr. Block said the Los Angeles Police Department was helping to identify the perpetrators of the violence and that he had tried to get the police to the scene as quickly as possible.

“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,” he said.

Ms. Omar pointed out that video images showed U.C.L.A. campus police officers standing by as the violence occurred.

“You should be ashamed for allowing such violence to happen,” Ms. Omar told Dr. Block.

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

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

And at U.C.L.A., students set up a new pro-Palestinian encampment on the campus, barricading a patio with umbrellas, tables and crates.

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

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