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Mike Johnson, in a navy jacket, stands at a podium next to Elise Stefanik and Virginia Foxx

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson said House Republicans will “speak to this fateful moment with moral clarity” as they work to combat antisemitism on college campuses.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Speaker Mike Johnson and other lawmakers are planning a wide-ranging effort to crack down on campus antisemitism that will likely involve nearly every committee in the House.

The crackdown will increase the pressure and scrutiny on colleges, particularly wealthy elite institutions, which are already under fire on numerous fronts as administrators grapple with a nationwide wave of protests and encampments, as well as criticism of college leaders’ responses to the escalating tensions, and in some cases, violence, on their campuses.

“Over the last few weeks we’ve seen absolute lawlessness and chaos on college and university campuses across America,” Johnson said at a press conference Tuesday, where he was flanked by nine powerful House Republicans. “It’s not right and everybody in this country knows it.”

Congress has ratcheted up its scrutiny of colleges in recent months in response to increased student protests against Israel’s war in Gaza and reports of increased antisemitic incidents on campuses. But this latest effort is the most coordinated and expansive inquiry into the nation’s colleges and universities, and the consequences could be vast. Several lawmakers hinted Tuesday at the possibility of cutting off billions of federal dollars for financial aid and research to institutions they say are violating federal civil rights laws by not adequately protecting Jewish students.

“If they don’t correct this quickly, you will see Congress respond in time,” Johnson said at the press conference. “You’re gonna see funding sources begin to dry up. You’re gonna see every level of accountability that we can muster.”

Johnson and the other Republican lawmakers criticized what they see as inaction and equivocation by the Biden administration on this issue, and they pledged to fill the void.

“Antisemitism is a virus and because the administration and woke university presidents aren’t stepping up, we’re seeing it spread,” he said. “We have to act, and House Republicans will speak to this fateful moment with moral clarity.”

The Education and Workforce Committee has been investigating antisemitism at select colleges and universities since December. The inquiries have alarmed higher education experts and advocates who worry they could infringe on academic freedom and institutional autonomy.

The committee, which already held two hearings aimed at holding college administrators accountable, is planning a third hearing on May 23. This time, the leaders of Yale University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Michigan will testify. Previous hearings have spurred intense backlash against those who testified.

“We have a clear message for mealy-mouthed, spineless college leaders: Congress will not tolerate your dereliction of duty to your Jewish students,” Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the committee, said at the press conference. “American universities are officially put on notice that we have come to take our universities back.”

In addition to the education committee, leaders of the Ways and Means, Judiciary, Oversight, Energy and Commerce, and Science, Space and Technology committees will be launching or continuing inquiries as part of the House-wide effort. The specifics of their investigations aren’t entirely clear, though lawmakers indicated where they might go. For example, Ways and Means will be looking into the tax-exempt status of institutions while Judiciary wants more information about the role of international students in the protests.

In a shift that could be more concerning for institutions, other committees will be focused on the federal research dollars that flow to colleges and universities.

Representative Frank Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Science, Space and Technology committee, said that funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is conditioned on colleges complying with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race and national origin. NSF funding accounts for about 25 percent of all federal support to America’s colleges and universities for basic research, Lucas added.

“Schools like Columbia and UC Berkeley annually receive more than $50 million each in NSF grants,” Frank said. “It’s time we review whether universities that allow the harassment, assault or intimidation of their Jewish students are in compliance with their federal obligations.”

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Washington Republican who leads the Energy and Commerce Committee, listed off how much money the National Institutes of Health doled out to Columbia, Harvard University and the University of Southern California in her remarks at the press conference.

“We will be increasing our oversight of institutions that receive public funding and cracking down on those who are in violation of the Civil Rights Act,” she said. “I’ll leave you all with this: Imagine being a Jewish American, knowing that part of your hard-earned paycheck is going to fund an antisemitic professor’s research while they threaten students and actively indoctrinate and radicalize the next generation.”

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