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Columbia University Senate Is Said to Be Redrafting Resolution Admonishing Its President

Columbia University’s faculty senate, fearing the repercussions of a censure vote against the school’s president, Nemat Shafik, plans instead to vote on a watered-down resolution expressing displeasure with a series of her decisions, including summoning the police last week to arrest protesting students on campus.

Senators worried that a censure vote could result in Dr. Shafik’s removal at a time of crisis. And some feared that such a vote would be perceived as yielding to Republican lawmakers who had called for her resignation, according to interviews with several members of the senate who attended a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, some of whom requested anonymity to talk about a private meeting.

The senate is scheduled to meet again on Friday to vote on a resolution.

Carol Garber, a senate member, was among those who questioned the perception of a censure vote with so much political pressure to remove Dr. Shafik.

“It really isn’t a precedent any university wants to set,” said Dr. Garber, a professor of behavioral sciences. “We shouldn’t be bullied by someone in Congress.”

The plan to step away from a harshly worded censure resolution followed a presentation by Dr. Shafik at the meeting of the senate, an official university body of more than 100 faculty, students, administrators and staff members. The university did not respond to a request for comment.

Emerging from the meeting, Dr. Garber said that some faculty members were “upset and hurt” by Dr. Shafik’s performance during a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism, in which she seemed to capitulate to the demands of members of Congress. Dr. Shafik told the House members that the university’s leaders agreed that some protesters had used antisemitic language and that certain contested phrases — like “from the river to the sea” — might warrant discipline.

At the faculty meeting, senators who attended the meeting described a polite but pointed exchange, with some angry over Dr. Shafik’s decision to call in the New York Police Department to break up an encampment protesting the war in Gaza.

Some expressed concern over the implications for more than 100 students who now have arrest and suspension records after having participated in the encampment, including students who were poised to graduate.

During the meeting, Dr. Shafik defended her decision to call in the police, citing worries about hazards from makeshift cooking equipment, as well as sanitation concerns.

“There were hundreds of people sleeping out in an unsafe environment,” Dr. Shafik told the group.

But she admitted that she had not visited the encampment, saying she had not been invited, according to one senator who took notes during the meeting.

That prompted another senator to ask for a show of hands of members who had visited. At least half the group raised their hands.

In something of a mea culpa, Dr. Shafik acknowledged that the police action had been ineffective, with a new protest camp quickly set up in another section of the lawn.

She also described a shift in tactics, with the university now using negotiations rather than force to clear the central lawn on campus where the students have set up camp.

One priority, she said, is to have the camp cleared before Columbia’s undergraduate ceremonies, scheduled on the lawn for May 15.

In calling the police, the administration ignored the wishes of the senate’s 13-member executive committee, which unanimously disapproved of the idea during an emergency meeting. A day before police arrived, they advised Dr. Shafik’s office that she did not have their endorsement and advised her to negotiate.

Dr. Shafik’s decision to go forward in summoning the police against the committee’s wishes, an apparent violation of university regulations, prompted the campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors, a liberal faculty group, to draft a resolution censuring her for presentation to the senate.

The resolution cites the arrests on campus, and chastises Dr. Shafik for her congressional testimony a day earlier, when she capitulated to Republican lawmakers and broke protocol by discussing internal campus investigations of specific professors, some accused of antisemitism.

But Sheldon Pollock, a member of the A.A.U.P. executive committee at Columbia, said that the campus visit on Wednesday by Mike Johnson, the Republican speaker of the House, was a historically singular episode of attempted outside interference.

“My sense is the faculty have been put in a very difficult situation,” said Dr. Pollock, a retired professor who is not a member of the senate. “We do not want politicians intruding on the shared governance procedures of Columbia University. At the same time we are deeply disturbed by the actions our president has taken in the last week.”

The emergency senate meeting on Wednesday was an attempt to defuse tensions before a vote on the proposal.

Dr. Shafik said she was concerned about restoring trust between the administration and faculty, which she argued had eroded even before she was appointed.

Dr. Shafik, who had served as the president of the London School of Economics, arrived at Columbia last July. She told the Columbia senate that she had “been in crisis mode ever since,” starting with the scandal over the former Columbia physician Dr. Robert A. Hadden, who was convicted of sexually assaulting patients, and now with the war in Gaza.

Describing herself as a strong advocate for free speech and academic freedom, she also said she was concerned that, in some cases, free speech had become harassment.

“We have had those incidents on campus and I have seen them, and we need to figure them out together,” she told the group.

A day after the meeting, members of Columbia University’s senate were busy redrafting a resolution, to be voted on Friday during the final senate meeting of the year.

While expressing disapproval with Dr. Shafik’s actions, it will stop short of a full censure.

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