Israel Palestinians Columbia Protests

Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus on April 18, in New York. The protesters were calling for the school to divest from corporations they claim profit from the war in the Middle East. Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

A group of undergraduate faculty at Columbia University declared with a vote Thursday that they have no confidence in President Minouche Shafik, accusing her of violating academic freedom and students’ rights in her handling of pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

While the action has no legal impact, it signals to university trustees, who have voiced strong support for Shafik, that she has lost the support of some professors.

The faculty who voted are in the school of Arts and Sciences, the largest of Columbia’s 21 schools and the one that serves the most students. The motion was introduced by faculty who serve on the board of Columbia’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Of the 709 faculty who cast a vote, 65% supported the motion, 29% were against it and 6% chose to abstain.

University spokesman Ben Chang said faculty in Arts and Sciences represents roughly 20% of the more than 4,600 full-time faculty at Columbia, noting that the majority of faculty were not a part of the vote. He said Shafik regularly consults with faculty, administration and trustees and “appreciates the efforts of those working alongside her on the long road ahead to heal our community.”

The language of the motion condemns Shafik’s decision in late April to call New York City police to clear out an encampment of protesters without consulting the university senate and criticizes her for closing the school’s Morningside campus, barring many students, faculty and staff from labs, libraries and offices. It also faults her for promising during a congressional hearing on antisemitism in April to fire faculty who engage in antisemitism.

“The President’s choices to ignore our statutes and our norms of academic freedom and shared governance, to have our students arrested, and to impose a lockdown of our campus with continuing police presence, have gravely undermined our confidence in her,” the motion reads. “A vote of no confidence in the President is the first step towards rebuilding our community and reestablishing the University’s core values of free speech, the right to peaceful assembly, and shared governance.”


Shafik, an economist who became Columbia’s leader in July, has faced intense scrutiny there and beyond. Since her testimony on Capitol Hill last month and the ensuing protests on campus, calls for her resignation have come from House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and other Republicans in Congress.

Claire Shipman and David Greenwald, co-chairs of the university’s board of trustees, recently wrote in a letter to The Washington Post, “It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that in a time of crisis, the voices of critics tend to be the loudest.” They said she had borne the burden of leading through the crisis “with great wisdom and moral clarity.” The board supports her, they wrote, and feels she is the best leader for Columbia.

Brent R. Stockwell, a biochemistry professor at Columbia, said he voted against the motion because Shafik had done her best in a difficult situation.

“She was trying to support the Jewish and Israeli faculty who felt uncomfortable with the protest situation,” said Stockwell, who has taught at Columbia for 20 years. “There’s a confluence of different reasons why people were supporting the protests, but my feeling overall is they were not creating the right environment on campus.”

He said some faculty criticized the administration but haven’t said what should have been done in the face of insistent demands by protesters that could not be accommodated and threats to public safety. The resolution, he said, failed to mention what some felt was an antisemitic environment created by the protesters or their breaking and entering into Hamilton Hall.

The American Association of University Professors changed a proposal to censure the president into a no-confidence vote after what Reinhold Martin, the incoming president of the faculty group, called “heavily armed NYPD” cleared protesters from Hamilton Hall. “That was a moment of truth,” he said.


Now, he said, “We must rebuild.”

The school’s powerful university senate – which includes faculty members, students, administrators and others – did not directly address Shafik’s leadership in a vote last month but acted to create a task force to examine the administration’s leadership amid tensions over the Israel-Gaza war.

Ivan Corwin, a professor of mathematics, who was not in favor of the no-confidence vote, said Columbia needs to find a way to return to a fully open campus.

“I think that there’s a lot of willingness to try to find a path forward,” Corwin said. “I think one of the things that’s very important going forward is to make sure that students, faculty and alumni all feel ownership of the institution and feel like they have a voice that is going to be heard when conflicts arise.”

The resolution at Columbia comes amid a flurry of votes of no confidence in university leaders over their handling of the antiwar protests that have gripped college campuses. Faculty at Barnard College, Emory College and the University of Southern California have expressed a lack of confidence in their leaders in recent weeks.

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