What We Know About Columbia University’s President, Nemat Shafik

The president of Columbia University, Nemat Shafik, is grappling with the fallout over her handling of student protests against the war in Gaza.

After appearing in a congressional hearing where many Republican lawmakers criticized the university’s efforts to quash antisemitism on campus, the school called in local law enforcement for the first time in decades to quell an unauthorized demonstration on Thursday.

The crackdown came one day after pro-Palestinian students had erected an encampment with dozens of tents, and refused to leave until their demands were met. The police swept through campus, arresting at least 108 protesters and discarding the tents as students jeered them.

Some Jewish students and others have said they appreciated the response, while some left-leaning faculty members, students, free speech advocates and others have said it was too harsh. Within hours, it was evident that the aggressive response might not have achieved its goal: Several student protesters said they were not only undiscouraged, but inspired to take new action.

What Is Dr. Shafik’s Background

Dr. Shafik took the helm of the school in July 2023, becoming the first woman to lead Columbia.

An economist by trade, she arrived with a uniquely global perspective for a college president. Her childhood was split across continents: Dr. Shafik was born in Egypt, but partly raised in the United States after her family fled the country when she was 4.

She ventured overseas to Britain to earn a master’s degree at the London School of Economics, an institution she also led for six years before arriving at Columbia. She also worked for the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund.

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