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Columbia trustees hang up phone, ignore question about president’s handling of protests amid criticism

Board members declined to comment, didn’t respond to The College Fix

Most of Columbia University’s Board of Trustees ignored emails and calls — including two who hung up the phone — asking about administrators’ handling of pro-Palestinian protests amid on-going criticism.

Of the 18 trustees contacted by The College Fix in recent weeks, none were willing to answer questions. The board consists of 20 trustees and university President Minouche Shafik.

Representatives for two of the trustees hung up on The Fix, and most did not respond to emails and calls to their offices or through media relations representatives.

The trustees have been accused of being “missing in public action” as the New York university faces scrutiny for its actions regarding antisemitism on campus.

The university went on lock-down after anti-Israel protesters took over a campus building in April, smashing windows, breaking through doors, and barricading themselves inside, The Fix reported.

Trustee Jeh Johnson was the only board member who replied to The Fix. In a recent email, Johnson said he did not have any comments on or off the record and referred The Fix to an MSNBC interview recorded the same day.

Asked what Columbia could have done better, Johnson told MSNBC Shafik had to make “the most difficult decisions I think I’ve seen in or out of government” about the protests.

He said the administration and trustees have made “the safety and welfare” of students and the university a top priority.

However, Johnson also “acknowledged that Columbia’s delay in calling the police to crack down on the demonstrations on campus was partially due to a fear that the faculty would fire the school’s president and Columbia’s tradition of not calling the police,” according to Breitbart.

“We have a very vocal faculty, faculty senate, university senate with their own views, and part of the Columbia history is we don’t call the New York City Police Department,” Johnson told MSNBC. “We hadn’t done so on a large scale since 1968. And so, you put all that together, it presents a unique set of very, very complicated, highly emotional decisions.”

Meanwhile, a individual at trustee Joseph Greenaway’s office told The Fix “Sorry, not available” and then hung up when contacted by phone last week.

Another individual at trustee Victor Mendelson’s office hung up twice on The Fix as soon as the reporter identified herself.

The Fix also contacted trustees Wanda Holland Greene, Mark Gallogly, David Greenwald, Duchesne Drew, Shoshana Shendelman, Dean Dakolias, Fermi Wang, Andrew Barth, Kathy Surace-Smith, Jonathan Rosand, Abigail Elbaum, Keith Goggin, Li Lu, Adam Pritzker, and Shirley Wang by email and phone over the past one to two weeks either directly through their businesses and organizations or through media relations representatives. None responded.

The Fix asked if the trustees are satisfied with how university leaders have handled the protests and how they would like to see Columbia handle similar situations in the future.

The Fix could not find contact information for trustees Claire Shipman and Kikka Hanazawa.

Board supports Shafik in ‘extraordinarily challenging time’

The trustees voiced strong support for Shafik “as she steers the university through this extraordinarily challenging time” in an April 24 statement provided to The Fix by media relations representative Melody Meyer.

“During the search process for this role, President Shafik told us that she would always take a thoughtful approach to resolving conflict, balancing the disparate voices that make up a vibrant campus like Columbia’s, while taking a firm stance against hatred, harassment, and discrimination,” the board stated.

The statement continued: “That’s exactly what she’s doing now. We are urgently working with her to help resolve the situation on campus and rebuild the bonds of our community; we encourage everyone who cares about Columbia to join us in that effort.”

Meyer also shared a May 3 CNN interview where Johnson expressed support for Shafik’s decision to call in the New York Police Department in response to the student protesters’ occupation of Hamilton Hall.

When protests escalated “to criminal vandalism and occupying Hamilton Hall, and that left us with no choice, we brought the police in at our request,” he told CNN. He said the decision was necessary for the safety of students.

Federal judges call for changes at Ivy League institution

But some believe university leaders are not doing enough to crack down on antisemitism and illegal activity connected to the pro-Palestinian protests.

In a letter, published in the Free Beacon earlier this month, 13 federal judges called on Shafik to make major changes and impose serious consequences on students and faculty who have broken the law.

The judges also asked Shafik to indiscriminately apply free speech rights and campus rules to all individuals, and work to achieve greater viewpoint diversity in faculty and administration.

“Considering recent events, and absent extraordinary change, we will not hire anyone who joins the Columbia University community—whether as undergraduates or law students— beginning with the entering class of 2024,” the letter states.

“The objective of our boycott is … not to hamper academic freedom, but to restore it at Columbia University,” it continues.

Investigation: Most board members left-leaning

The trustee board also has been criticized for many of its members’ left-leaning affiliations, according to a recent article in the New York Post.

Johnson served as secretary of Homeland Security in the Barack Obama administration; Greenway was appointed to federal judicial positions under both Bill Clinton and Obama; and Shipman is married to former Obama press secretary Jay Carney.

Additionally, Pritzker has family ties to left-wing activists, and many board members have made large donations to Democrat candidates, according to the Post.

Meanwhile, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine also has criticized several board members on X for their connections to pro-Israel groups and weapons manufacturers.

The student group’s post also expressed disapproval of trustee Abigail Elbaum for being a member of the NYPD Police Foundation board.

Columbia recently canceled its campus-wide commencement ceremony, citing safety concerns.

When Shafik testified before Congress in April, Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx said the university has become “a platform for the support of terrorism and violence against the Jewish people.”

MORE: Custodians’ union to sue Columbia, says didn’t protect staff from ‘bratty,’ ‘privileged’ protesters

IMAGE: Columbia Spectator/X

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Kate Roberson is a student at Empire State College where she is studying history. Her work has appeared in The Federalist and on her blog, The Inkstain.