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GOP lawmakers grill Northwestern, Rutgers and UCLA leaders on college protests, alleged antisemitism

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(WASHINGTON) — Lawmakers on the GOP-led House Education Committee grilled more university leaders on Thursday, insisting they defend their handling of pro-Palestinian protests and respond to allegations of antisemitism on campus.

As in previous hearings, there were heated exchanges between lawmakers and school officials over what Republicans, especially, are making an election-year issue.

Leaders from Northwestern, Rutgers and UCLA were called as the committee’s main witnesses, joining previous appearances by leaders of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University amid a months long probe the committee says is aimed at rooting out antisemitism.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has often taken the lead in the questioning, focused on Northwestern President Michael Schill. The New York Republican blasted Schill for his university’s response to antisemitism, citing the Anti-Defamation League giving issued the school an “F” grade.

Schill, who is Jewish, acknowledged several incidents Stefanik cited of Jewish students she said had been physically and verbally assaulted, but also repeated several times that they are under investigation.

“We believe in investigations,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to tell you that they’ll be finalized.”

“But it is a fact you said that there have been zero suspensions, zero expulsions with lots of investigations on their way?” Stefanik demanded.

The president acknowledged that no student has been suspended but reiterated that the investigations are ongoing.

During his opening remarks, Schill vowed to crack down on antisemitism and admitted “our existing rules and policies are falling short.”

“We’re going to reconstitute a task force that will benefit from the information from other task forces,” he said. “We will revise our student code, we will enhance enforcement, [and] we will increase our security and we will do what we do best, teaching our students about the dangers of antisemitism.”

While Northwestern is private, the heads of Rutgers and UCLA are the only public school leaders to testify since the committee hearings that started in December.

The five-and-a-half-month election-year crusade has so far resulted in investigations of each school, the subsequent ousters of two university presidents — Harvard’s Claudine Gay and Penn’s Liz Magill — and even the first congressional subpoena of a university in this committee’s more than 150-year history.

Before the first two committee hearings and at other House events, Jewish students from those schools have participated in news conferences and roundtables detailing their fears and frustrations with campus leadership.

Last month, as college protests over the Israel-Hamas war boiled over, House Education Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx said her panel had a “clear message for mealy-mouthed, spineless college leaders: Congress will not tolerate your dereliction of your duty to your Jewish students.”

She has complained that UCLA did not act quickly enough to remove protesters and that Rutgers and Northwestern officials negotiated with them.

During the same news conference, Speaker Mike Johnson expanded the committee’s antisemitism probe into a House-wide investigation after weeks of college campus protests, which included encampments at schools that included Columbia University.

Thursday’s hearing comes after the cancellation of Columbia’s main graduation ceremony and the clearing of several pro-Palestinian demonstrations at universities around the country.

UCLA became a flashpoint of the nationwide campus protests earlier this month when violent clashes broke out between protesters and counter-protesters as police allegedly stood by.

Earlier this week, former UCLA Police Chief John Thomas was reassigned temporarily, pending an examination of the school’s security processes, the school said in a statement to ABC News.

Foxx has insisted to ABC News that the Education Committee is not out to get college presidents, saying it has been the committee’s goal to hold them accountable and maintain safe learning environments for students.

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