AAUP President: Columbia President Shafik Trampled on Students’ Rights

A statement from AAUP president Irene Mulvey:

Wednesday, before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, President Shafik threw academic freedom and Columbia University faculty under the bus instead of providing what higher education and democracy require: a robust defense of academic freedom and its essential protection of extramural speech. While one can sympathize with the fact that the hearing was a set-up from the get-go and intended to generate sound bites and clickbait to serve a political agenda, any university president worth their salt (and salary) should stand unequivocally for free and open inquiry, especially when topics are controversial and polarizing, and debates are heated and messy.

This performance was extremely disappointing, but what followed was worse: Shafik trampled on students’ associational and free speech rights by declaring a peaceful, outdoor protest a “clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the University.”  She then invoked a Columbia statute that allows external authorities to end campus disruptions. Her decision resulted in the NYPD arresting over 100 students occupying an outdoor lawn. Notably, the statute requires consultation involving the University Senate’s Executive Committee which does not appear to have occurred, according to the executive committee’s chair.

President Shafik’s actions clearly fail to meet the standards announced in the Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students:

College and university students are both citizens and members of the academic community. As citizens, students should enjoy the same freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, and right of petition that other citizens enjoy and, as members of the academic community, they are subject to the obligations that accrue to them by virtue of this membership. Faculty members and administration officials should ensure that institutional powers are not employed to inhibit such intellectual and personal development of students as is often promoted by their exercise of the rights of citizenship both on and off campus.

Our campuses should be places of learning and education. Our goal should be dialogue and communication in service of understanding. Critically evaluating different points of view and putting up to debate even the most deeply held beliefs are what we should be promoting, modeling and supporting. President Shafik’s silencing of peaceful protesters and having them hauled off to jail does a grave disservice to Columbia’s reputation and will be a permanent stain on her presidential legacy.

Publication Date: 
Friday, April 19, 2024