Northwestern president testifies at Congressional hearing on alleged antisemitism at colleges

Thursday, May 23, 2024
NU president testifies before Congress on alleged antisemitism
Northwestern University President Michael Schill defended his actions before Congress at a hearing on antisemitism Thursday.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Northwestern University President Michael Schill was in the hot seat on Capitol Hill at a hearing Thursday morning on antisemitism on college campuses.

In a fiery exchange, a Republican lawmaker questioned Schill about allegations of antisemitic hate on campus.

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Northwestern was one of the many college campuses nationwide where pro-Palestinian encampments were set up for days.

They wanted a cease-fire in Gaza and universities to cut ties with Israeli institutions.

The president of Northwestern University, defended the private school on Capitol Hill

Schill defended his decision to negotiate an agreement with pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had set up an encampment last month on the school's Evanston campus.

"We did not give in to any of the protesters' demands and the commitments we made are consistent with our values," Schill said. "Importantly, I rejected the main student demand for divestment, and will not ever recommend that NU use its resources for political purposes."

Schill, who noted that he descends from Holocaust victims and survivors, told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that engaging students with dialogue instead of force was the best and safest path forward, as he saw dangers escalating at the encampment.

"These are all of our students. My No. 1 obligation is public safety and their safety because, if you do not think it's safe, you cannot learn," he said.

But the Republican chairwoman of the committee from North Carolina, Virginia Foxx, had some sharp words for Schill and other college leaders who were called to testify.

"Each of you should be ashamed of your decisions that allowed antisemitic encampments to endanger Jewish students," Foxx said. "Mr. Schill and Dr. Holloway, you should be doubly ashamed for capitulating to the antisemitic rule breaking."

RELATED: Lawsuit accuses Northwestern of failing to protect Jewish students from antisemitic harassment

Thursday's was one of a series of hearings being held on the way colleges have handled antisemitism on their campuses. Many on the House committee grilled college leaders and called for accountability.

"Those who are in charge of universities, who negotiate with pro-terror protesters, are not doing their jobs," Foxx said. "Taxpayer dollars have no business funding universities without principals that align with the principles of this country."

She pointed to seven members of Schill's antisemitism advisory committee resigning, as well.

Sparks flew from New York Republican Elise Stefanik, as she discussed Northwestern's new "F" rating from the Anti-Defamation League.

Northwestern's agreement required supporting two visiting Palestinian faculty for two years and the full cost of education for five Palestinian undergrads, among other inclusivity and investment disclosure agreements.

Schill said those staff and student supports were part of already existing programs.

But the questioning continued.

"Isn't it true that a Jewish student was told to 'go back to Germany and get gassed?'" Stefanik said.

"I've heard that alleged. Again, it is being investigated. We will investigate any claim of discrimination," Schill said.

"But, it is a fact that you've said there have been zero suspensions, zero expulsions," The Republican congresswoman said.

"Thus far with lots of investigations on their way," Schill said.

Thursday morning, pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at Northwestern University, as they listened to Schill's testimony.

"We call on President Schill not to misrepresent the nature of our encampment and feed into the culture war against peaceful student protest," a pro-Palestinian student said.

Schill said in the wake of the encampment, students have been held accountable and disciplined along with staff. He also, said at his direction, he will be working over the summer to update Northwestern's student conduct code, and new policies will be in place before students return to campus.

The ADL is reiterating its call for Schill to resign after seeing his testimony.

Schill said he is restarting an antisemitism task force on campus and acknowledged existing rules and policies are falling short.