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Representative Mike Lawler stands before a microphone at a press conference outside Columbia University.

New York representative Mike Lawler held a press conference Monday near Columbia University to condemn antisemitism and the harassment of Jewish students. He is one of several House Republicans who called on Columbia President Minouche Shafik to resign.

Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Less than a week after testifying before Congress, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik is facing bipartisan calls from lawmakers for her to step down following a chaotic weekend of protests on and off campus that left some Jewish students feeling unsafe.

Shafik, who asked the New York Police Department to clear a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus last week, canceled in-person classes Monday—the eve of the Passover holiday—amid the escalating turmoil. She said the campus community needed a reset.

The pressure to resign thus far is coming from House Republicans from New York, some Democrats in the House, and a few U.S. senators. Even those not calling for Shafik to resign have condemned the events at and around Columbia.

The White House also condemned the calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students as “blatantly antisemitic, unconscionable and dangerous.” Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat whose daughter was suspended last week from Barnard College, said the protests at Columbia, like others in history, have been “co-opted and made to look bad” so that they would be shut down.

“The Columbia protesters have made clear their demands,” Omar wrote on social media. Those demands include divesting all finances from corporations that profit from the war in Israel. “Public officials and media making this about anything else are inflaming the situation and need to bring calmness and sanity back.”

Despite the planned reset, all House Republicans representing New York said by early afternoon Monday that it’s time for the university “to turn the page on this shameful chapter.” They wrote in a letter that Shafik has failed in her obligation to ensure students have a safe learning environment.

“Over the past few days, anarchy has engulfed the campus of Columbia University,” the Republican lawmakers wrote in a letter Monday, calling the encampment an “antisemitic riot.”

“The situation unfolding on campus right now is a direct product of your policies and misguided decisions … Based on these events and your testimony in front of Congress, we have no confidence in your leadership of this once esteemed institution.”

The letter comes after New York representative Elise Stefanik, a Republican, said Sunday that Shafik should resign. She was joined by Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, and other lawmakers in both chambers.

A Columbia spokesperson said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed that Shafik “is focused on deescalating the rancor on Columbia’s campus.

“She is working across campus with members of the faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees, and with state, city, and community leaders, and appreciates their support,” the statement said.

Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the Republican chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee, wrote to Shafik on Sunday that the committee wouldn’t hesitate to hold her and other senior administrators accountable if they don’t restore “order and safety” on campus. The committee followed up with a social media post directing Columbia to clear out the encampment and to expel or fire the students and faculty members involved.

Other lawmakers stopped by Columbia’s campus to show their support for Jewish students, hold news conferences outside, or meet with university officials. For example, New York governor Kathy Hochul visited the Morningside Heights campus to meet with Jewish students as city officials and law enforcement officers discussed safety and security on campus.

“My number one job is to keep people of this state safe and right now there are many students not feeling safe on campus,” Hochul said in a video posted on social media after her campus visit. “Students are scared. They are afraid to walk on campus. They don’t deserve that. They deserve an environment that is free from discrimination as required by state human rights laws.”

Hochul added that she was once a student protester but has “never seen a level of protests that is so person-to-person; that is so visceral."

“People need to find their community, have the conversations, talk to each other, understand different points of view," she continued.

That’s what college students should be doing. So, we as adults need to foster the right environment for that. I hope there’s a resolution that comes out of this where people have a deeper sense of understanding … No one here on a college campus should feel they are being persecuted because of their religious beliefs.”

A group of four Jewish House members, all Democrats, were on campus as well to meet with Jewish students. One of them, New Jersey representative Josh Gottheimer, said in a press conference after their campus visit that Jewish students are welcome at Columbia.

“While the leadership of Columbia may be failing you, we will not,” Gottheimer said. “We will do everything in our power to keep you safe and do everything in Washington we can to make sure that you feel welcome at this university or any university across the United States of America.”

While most in Congress directed their ire primarily at Columbia, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican, went further.

“Eisenhower sent the 101st to Little Rock. It’s time for Biden to call out the National Guard at our universities to protect Jewish Americans,” Hawley wrote on social media, referencing former President Eisenhower's decision to send the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort nine Black students to class and integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Eisenhower called the army after the state’s governor ordered the National Guard to block their entrance.

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