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UCLA Chancellor Gene Block recently found himself in the midst of the nation’s culture wars, as members of Congress interrogated him about his handling of complaints of campus antisemitism during student protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict. The hearing, organized by the GOP-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce, presented UCLA as an example of how not to deal with protests. Jewish students and faculty complained about a Palestinian solidarity encampment on campus, citing discrimination and violence. The encampment was dismantled after a violent attack by pro-Israeli counterprotesters.

During the hearing, politicians used the opportunity to score political points rather than engage in constructive discussions on how universities can balance free speech and protect students from discrimination. Chancellor Block admitted that UCLA made errors in judgment in allowing the encampment to disrupt normal access to classes and impede the educational mission. However, he was vague about what the university should have done differently to prevent discrimination and violence as protests escalated. Block did not specify what campus discipline had been or would be meted out to violators of UCLA rules.

Republican Congress members pressured Block to take action against protesters who physically obstructed students based on race, ethnicity, or religion. A viral video showed protesters blocking a student, prompting questions about disciplinary consequences. While Block mentioned an ongoing investigation, he did not confirm whether any consequences had been implemented. Block acknowledged that UCLA has a problem with antisemitism, citing repugnant rhetoric and images that many Jewish students have had to confront on campus. He mentioned that the university had implemented training to address antisemitism, with about 90% of students completing an online course on the topic.

Despite condemning antisemitism on campus, Block pushed back against the Republican narrative that UCLA was a hotbed of antisemitism, emphasizing that incidents of antisemitism were concerning but not representative of the overall campus culture. The hearing highlighted the complexities of addressing discrimination and maintaining free speech on college campuses, with political agendas often overshadowing constructive dialogue. While Block expressed a willingness to do more to address antisemitism and discrimination at UCLA, the lack of clear disciplinary action against protesters raised questions about the effectiveness of the university’s approach in handling such sensitive issues.

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