UCLA should have immediately removed protesters, chancellor tells House

FILE PHOTO: Protesters gather at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in Los Angeles

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The head of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) told a U.S. House panel on Thursday that the school should have been ready to immediately remove an encampment of pro-Palestinian activists that became the site of a violent clash with counter-protesters last month.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block was one of three U.S. university leaders who testified at a hearing of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives' Education Committee into the wave of protests against Israel's war in Gaza that has unfolded on American campuses over the past two months.

"With the benefit of hindsight, we should have been prepared to immediately remove the encampment if and when the safety of our community was put at risk," Block told the panel.

UCLA was the site of an April 30 overnight mob attack on pro-Palestinian activists that was one of the most violent scenes of the recent protests. The university on Wednesday removed the head of its campus police for its handling of the protests, which included inaction during the attack and the arrests by state and local police of 210 people the next night.

"The recent images from UCLA are appalling. What is more appalling is that it was completely preventable," said Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman on the panel. "You, the UCLA leadership and law enforcement stood by for hours as the mob of agitators gathered near the encampment with the clear intention to cause violence."

Block disputed that assertion.

On dozens of campuses throughout the country, students set up tents and held rallies to call on President Joe Biden to do more to end the fighting in Gaza and to demand that their universities divest from companies that back Israel's government. Some protesters have adopted antisemitic rhetoric, leading some Jewish students to fear for their safety.

The heads of Northwestern University in Illinois and Rutgers University of New Jersey also testified at the sixth event the committee and its subcommittees have held on schools' responses to tensions that have flared since Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking more than 250 hostages.

Nearly 36,000 Palestinians have been killed and 80,000 injured in Israel's military offensive on Gaza, according to Gaza's health ministry. Israel's military says 286 Israeli soldiers have also been killed.


Biden's handling of the war and the protests over it have deeply divided Democrats, a Reuters/Ipsos poll this month found, fraying the coalition that he relied on four years ago to defeat Republican Donald Trump.

House Education Committee Chair Virginia Foxx said that each university had failed to enforce its own rules, preserve campus safety and protect Jewish students.

"Today's hearing is the beginning, not the end, of the committee's investigation of your institutions," Foxx told the university presidents.

Some of the most contentious questioning was aimed at Michael Schill, the president of Northwestern, which reached an agreement with protesters to end their demonstration. The Anti-Defamation League, a group dedicated to fighting antisemitism, has criticized the university for that agreement.

"President Schill, we've heard accounts of horrific violence and harassment of Jewish students on your campus, but you admitted you have not suspended a single student since Oct. 7 for antisemitic conduct," said Foxx. "You've refused to answer basic questions on topics."

The presidents of Harvard and University of Pennsylvania resigned after backlash over their testimony in front of the panel in December about antisemitism on campus.

"No one should be intimidated, harassed or assaulted just simply for who they are or who they worship," said Bobby Scott, the top Democrat on the committee.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone and Rod Nickel)