April 24, 2024

By Bianca Quilantan


Elise Stefanik is demanding the Biden administration revoke Columbia University’s federal funding for what she says is the school’s failure to protect Jewish students amid ongoing pro-Palestinian protests that have engulfed the campus over the past week.

In addition to asking Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to penalize the institution, the no. 4 House Republican also wants other federal agency leaders to become involved. Stefanik (N.Y.) wants Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Attorney General Merrick Garland to use their agencies to crack down on anyone “calling for terrorism and violent attacks” by revoking visas and deporting international students who have been suspended for their involvement in the protests.

“You have the ability and authority to put a stop to this and take concrete steps to hold accountable those responsible,” Stefanik wrote Tuesday in a letter to all three agency heads, adding that “if you do not take action to stop the ongoing madness, you are equally complicit in allowing it to persist.”

Students across the country have launched Gaza solidarity protests in recent days that have included encampments on prominent campus lawns, occupying buildings and walkouts. Several demonstrations, including at New York University, Columbia and Yale University, have led to the mass arrests of students, faculty and other protesters.

More than 100 students and some faculty have been arrested for protesting in support of Palestinians in Gaza after Columbia President Minouche Shafik called local law enforcement to step in. Some groups, including the American Association of University Professors, have slammed her decision to squash the protests. And lawmakers, including Stefanik, have been calling on Shafik to resign.

The encampment at Columbia is ongoing, and Shafik has opted to move instruction partially online for the rest of the semester.

Stefanik tore into Shafik’s decision to move classes to a hybrid model, saying that she is allowing the protesters to “further disrupt learning.”

“Due to her lack of action, President Shafik has ceded control of campus and is failing to provide the equal protections guaranteed for students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Stefanik wrote in her Tuesday letter.

All schools that receive federal funds must comply with Title VI, a federal law that bars discrimination based on shared ancestry, ethnic characteristics or national origin. Schools that violate the law are at risk of losing their federal funding if they do not comply.

Being stripped of federal funding, including access to federal student aid, is one of the worst consequences an institution can face. It would also be an unprecedented step for the Education Department to take. Cardona’s Office for Civil Rights, however, has the authority to do it.

“Look, if an institution refuses to follow the law to protect students, we would withhold dollars,” Cardona said in an interview on CNN in November, though he signaled at the time it was unlikely his agency would strip schools of their funding.

On Tuesday, Cardona weighed in for the first time on the situation, saying on X, formerly Twitter, that he is “deeply concerned by what is happening at Columbia University” and that his agency already launched an investigation into the institution in November.

Still, Stefanik is demanding the department immediately publish its investigation findings and hold the institution accountable.

“Antisemitic hate on college campuses is unacceptable,” Cardona said on X, adding that he could not weigh in on pending investigations.