Watch CBS News

Who is Columbia University President Dr. Minouche Shafik? What to know amid campus protests

Here's what Columbia University's president had to say about antisemitism on campus
Here's what Columbia University's president had to say about antisemitism on campus 02:47

NEW YORK -- Columbia University President Dr. Minouche Shafik is drawing national scrutiny as days of pro-Palestinian protests continue on the campus in New York City. 

Shafik testified before Congress last week as part of a series of hearings about antisemitism on college campuses. Her remarks drew criticism from students on all sides of the issue, sparking dueling protests and the NYPD arresting more than 100 people at a makeshift encampment.

Demonstrators have taken over part of the school's main lawn in Upper Manhattan for nearly a week, calling on Columbia to divest from Israel. Students at several other colleges around the country also joined in solidarity. 

Meanwhile, Jewish students report feeling unsafe at Columbia as the protests continue and say the university needs to do more to ensure their safety. Classes switched to remote learning Monday to "deescalate the rancor," the president said in a statement

Calls for Dr. Shafik's resignation

Rep. Elise Stefanik, who represents New York's 21st congressional district, recently called for Shafik to resign over the controversy. 

"It is crystal clear that Columbia University -- previously a beacon of academic excellence founded by Alexander Hamilton -- needs new leadership," Stefanik posted on social media. "President Shafik must immediately resign. And the Columbia Board must appoint a President who will protect Jewish students and enforce school policies."

New York's Republican Congressional Delegation sent a letter Monday, echoing Stefanik's call and writing the state of campus "is a direct product of your policies and misguided decisions."

The White House and state and local officials also released statements condemning reports of antisemitism on campus. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Columbia on Monday and said she spoke with Shafik, along with students and law enforcement. 

"Students are scared. They're afraid to walk on campus. They don't deserve that," Hochul said. "They deserve to be in an environment that's free from discrimination, as required by state human rights laws."

In her latest message to students and staff, the university president wrote, "Let's sit down and talk and argue and find ways to compromise on solutions."

"During the coming days, a working group of Deans, university administrators and faculty members will try to bring this crisis to a resolution," her statement went on to say. That includes continuing discussions with the student protestors and identifying actions we can take as a community to enable us to peacefully complete the term and return to respectful engagement with each other."

Columbia's senate, which is comprised of students and faculty, could vote on a resolution to censure Shafik, in part over the arrests of student-protesters last week.

House Speaker Mike Johnson also called for Shafik's resignation when he visited the school Wednesday.

Columbia's first woman president

Columbia University announced last year Shafik would succeed outgoing president Lee Bollinger. She became the university's 20th president and the first woman to hold the position.

Jonathan Lavine, the chairman of the board of trustees, hailed Shafik when she was named Columbia's new president as "the perfect candidate: a brilliant and able global leader, a community builder, and a preeminent economist who understands the academy and the world beyond it."

"What set Minouche apart as a candidate is her unshakable confidence in the vital role institutions of higher education can and must play in solving the world's most complex problems," Lavine said in a January 2023 statement. "Like all of us in the Columbia community, she believes that in order to bring about meaningful change, we have a collective obligation to combine our distinctive intellectual capacities with groups and organizations beyond the academy."

Bollinger stepped down at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year, and Shafik became president at the start of this school year. 

Dr. Shafik's career before Columbia

Before joining Columbia, Shafik was the director of the London School of Economics and Political Science for more than five years.

She began her career with the World Bank, where she became the youngest vice president at the age of 36. She was later appointed Permanent Secretary of the U.K.'s Department for International Development, Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund and then as Deputy Governor of the Bank of England.

Shafik was born in Alexandria, Egypt and fled the country with her family when she was four years old. She received a Bachelor's in economics and politics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, a Master of Science in economics from the London School of Economics; and a Doctor of Philosophy in economics from St. Antony's College at Oxford University.

She is married to a molecular biologist and has two college-age children and three adult stepchildren, according to her bio on Columbia's website

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.