Pamela Paul: At Columbia University, the grown-ups in the room take a stand

There’s plenty to condemn on today’s college campuses, including the behavior of both administrations and students. So, it’s a rare pleasure to get a chance to applaud the president of a university, in this case Minouche Shafik of Columbia University, who on Thursday called in police to remove student protesters who have camped out on campus in violation of university policy.

I happened to be on campus Wednesday when this latest wave of protests was getting started. Students marched around outdoors in virtue-signaling masks yelling “NYPD, KKK!” along with the usual anti-Israel slogans. For this passerby, the fury and self-righteous sentiment on display was chilling. But for Jewish students on campus, for supporters of Israel or for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the simplistic good-versus-evil narrative of the anti-settler-colonialism crowd, it must be unimaginably painful. Many of them are at the university to learn in a safe and tolerant environment.

As for tolerance? One can’t help but wonder, no matter what one’s opinion of Israel, or its despicable government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the particulars of its military response, why one rarely hears pro-Palestinian demonstrators condemn the terrorist organization Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip without an election since 2006. Or why those who wish Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to end don’t likewise urge Hamas to end the fighting, which it could easily do by freeing the hostages it took during its Oct. 7 rampage.

Lofty, unrealistic goals, all. But no more unlikely than the wholesale eradication of Israel that many of these protesters seem to advocate above all else. As far as I could tell, the word “peace” was notably absent in the student display at Columbia.

On Wednesday, Shafik acquitted herself well under questioning in Congress. Asked about a glossary of politicized language, put together by students at the university’s School of Social Work, Shafik condemned the language that implicitly denigrates Jews. Asked why the document spelled the word “folks” as “folx,” Shafik gave an appropriately sardonic reply: “Maybe they can’t spell.”

Spoken like a real grown-up. And Thursday, with the authority at her disposal and with the courage that too many academic leaders have lacked, Shafik did what any responsible adult should do in her position: She ordered the police to clear Columbia’s campus of the students seemingly unaware of how lucky they are to attend one of the nation’s top universities. Let’s hope this teaches the students a lesson. They clearly still have a lot to learn.

Pamela Paul writes a column for the New York Times.

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