Who is Nemat Shafik, Columbia University's embattled president?

She has come under fire over the Ivy League school's handling of anti-Israel protests

Nemat Shafik testifies before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Capitol Hill. AP
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Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, the Egyptian-born economist who became the first woman to lead Columbia University in New York, has come under increasing scrutiny amid on-campus Gaza war-related protests.

Less than a year into her tenure at Columbia, Ms Shafik is facing calls to resign over her handling of protests at the university, where more than 100 people have been arrested so far.

Who is Nemat 'Minouche' Shafik?

Ms Shafik was born in Alexandria and her family left Egypt when Gamal Abdel Nasser began nationalising the country.

She grew up in the southern US, living in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. She holds British and US citizenship.

In 1993, Ms Shafik graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and then earned a master's degree from the University of London and a doctorate from the University of Oxford.

Before leading Columbia, Ms Shafik was the director of the London School of Economics.

Prior to that, she served as deputy governor of the Bank of England from 2014 to 2017, managing a $605 billion balance sheet.

In 2015, she was given the title of Baroness in the Order of the British Empire.

Throughout her career she has been involved in public policy and academia with stints at the World Bank, Georgetown University in Washington and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

On-campus protests

Last week, Ms Shafik and board of trustees members were questioned by members of a House of Representatives committee about on-campus hate and anti-Semitism.

She arrived on Capitol Hill four months after a similar hearing led to the resignations of two Ivy League university presidents.

Protests continue at Columbia University after pro-Palestine encampment arrests

Protests continue at Columbia University after pro-Palestine encampment arrests

From the start, Ms Shafik took a more decisive stance than the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, who gave lawyer-like answers when asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews would breach school policies.

Tension on campus has increased since Ms Shafik appeared before Congress.

More than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested last Thursday after she authorised New York police to clear a camp set up by students demonstrating against Israel's war in Gaza.

Ms Shafik has called for a “reset” in an effort to ease the situation and announced all classes would be held online on Monday.

“To de-escalate the rancour and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” she said in a statement.

“Faculty and staff who can work remotely should do so.”

In a letter to the school community, she said that a working group consisting of deans, university administrators and faculty will look for ways to resolve the current crisis.

“Let’s remind ourselves of our common values of honouring learning, mutual respect and kindness that have been the bedrock of Columbia," Ms Shafik said.

"I hope everyone can take a deep breath, show compassion and work together to rebuild the ties that bind us together."

Updated: April 23, 2024, 3:47 AM