Rutgers, Northwestern and UCLA school leaders grilled over campus antisemitism on Capitol Hill

Leaders of Rutgers, Northwestern, and UCLA were in the hot seat Thursday morning on Capitol Hill before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce for their handling of antisemitism on campus since October 7 and specifically for their response to the chaotic encampments that unfolded earlier this month. 

Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway, Northwestern President Michael Schill, and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block faced more than three hours of intense scrutiny in the Committee’s sixth event held on schools’ responses to antisemitism. 

The encampment at Columbia University was erected last month in conjunction with President Minouche Shafik’s Capitol Hill testimony. 

“Taxpayer dollars have no business funding universities without principles that align with the principles of this country. Each of you refused to enforce your own rules, preserve campus safety, and protect Jewish students,” Foxx said in her opening remarks. 

Vitriol swept UCLA’s Gaza solidarity encampment earlier this month as pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protestors violently clashed outside the Gaza solidarity encampment. At UCLA, occupants of the encampment clashed with masked counter-demonstrators. Police did not intervene for hours.

The following day, police forcibly removed an encampment of protesters, arriving before dawn and using flash bangs and riot gear to push through lines of demonstrators who linked arms to try to stop them. Los Angeles police said 210 people were arrested at the school.

Leaders criticized for protest mishandling

Protest on the Columbia campus (credit: REUTERS)

“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,” Block said. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) accused Block and UCLA officials of failing to prevent the violence that broke out and endangered the students in the encampment. She accused the university and law enforcement of standing by as the “mob of agitators” gathered near the encampment with the explicit intention of causing violence. 

Across the country at Rutgers, Holloway struck a deal with protestors who peacefully removed their encampment. The university promised not to retaliate against students and faculty who participated in the protests as long as they did not continue to violate school rules. 

Rutgers administrators agreed to enroll Palestinian students and to continue a relationship with a West Bank university. 

However, Rutgers refused to end relationships with Israeli universities and said only that it acknowledged a divestment request and would allow students to discuss it with an investment committee. 

On Wednesday, ahead of the Capitol Hill hearing, hundreds of Jewish Rutgers University staff and students released letters describing their school as an intimidating campus environment for Jews.

At Northwestern University in Chicago, seven Jewish members of the school’s antisemitism committee resigned en masse after Schill struck a deal with the groups behind the encampment there. The Committee announced it was shutting down before it could make any recommendations. 

“It’s a terrible mistake. The administration made a joke out of itself,” Efraim Benmelech, an Israeli professor at Northwestern’s business school who resigned as the Committee’s co-chair, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about the deal with protesters.

A student at Northwestern filed a class-action lawsuit against the school on Monday, alleging it has allowed for “endemic antisemitism” to exclude Jewish students from the entire educational experience.

Chicago’s Jewish federation condemned the agreement, saying, “The overwhelming majority of your Jewish students, faculty, staff, and alumni feel betrayed. They trusted an institution you lead and considered it home. You have violated that trust.”

Halloway and Bank denied allegations that their campuses have become “hotbeds of antisemitism.”

Reps. Elise Sefanik (R-NY) pressed Schill about Northwestern’s downgraded ranking from the Anti-Defamation League’s antisemitism report card. 

“Isn’t it also true that Northwestern earned an F for your failure to respond and combat antisemitism and called for your resignation?” Stefanik said. “Let me tell you why you earned an F.”

Stafanik questioned Schill on allegations of Jewish students being verbally and physically assaulted. 

Schill said the claims are under investigation and cannot be discussed. 

Thus far, Schill said, no students have been suspended or expelled since October 7 for antisemitic conduct. 

Foxx said she was “appalled by the condescension and contempt” he’s shown for the Committee and “for his own Jewish students today.”

She criticized Block for allowing pro-Palestinian students to set up checkpoints on campus and scolded Halloway for enabling professors to share pro-Hamas content on social media. 

“This is the beginning, not the end, of the Committee’s investigation into your institutions. You will be held accountable for your records,” Foxx said. “Congress will not stand by while you violate your obligations to uphold Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, fail to protect Jewish students, cut deals advancing divestment, and promote terrorism and racial antisemitism ideologies.”