University heads to testify before US House committee on campus tensions

By Thomson Reuters May 23, 2024 | 5:06 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The heads of three universities and an academic honor society are due to testify on Thursday to the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce about universities’ handling of pro-Palestinian protests.

The hearing is the sixth event the committee and its subcommittees have held on schools’ responses to tensions that have flared since Hamas militants mounted a deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking more than 250 hostage.

Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed and 80,000 injured in Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

On dozens of campuses throughout the country, students set up tents and held rallies to call on President Joe Biden to do more to end the fighting in Gaza and to demand that their universities divest from companies that back the government of Israel.

The presidents of Harvard and University of Pennsylvania resigned after backlash over their congressional testimony in December about antisemitism on campus.

House lawmakers will now hear from the heads of Northwestern University, Rutgers University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The head of the Phi Beta Kappa Society will testify in his personal capacity, a spokesperson for the organization said.

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.

“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,” Gene Block, UCLA’s chancellor, is expected to say, according to his written testimony.

At Rutgers and Northwestern, the universities reached agreements with student protesters to end the protests. The agreement at Northwestern allows demonstrators to remain through June 1.

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 full educational experience.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; editing by Rod Nickel)