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Professor who Columbia president said was ‘spoken to’ for calling Hamas invasion ‘astounding’ says he wasn’t disciplined

By Elisabeth Buchwald, CNN

New York (CNN) — Columbia University President Minouche Shafik’s Wednesday testimony before a House committee on how the school responded to a professor’s controversial piece labeling Hamas’ October 7 attack a “resistance offensive” is at odds with the account the professor shared with CNN.

Multiple lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing on antisemitism at Columbia took particular issue with the professor, Joseph Massad’s, use of the word “awesome” in the piece describing scenes from the day of the attack, though not the attack itself.

In the piece, Massad also said, “The sight of the Palestinian resistance fighters storming Israeli checkpoints separating Gaza from Israel was astounding.”

Shafik told members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that she condemned the statements he made in the piece and was “appalled” by them. A university spokesperson confirmed that Massad was under investigation for allegedly making discriminatory remarks, as Shafik noted in her Wednesday testimony. Massad told CNN the investigation was “news” to him and he was not aware of it prior to Wednesday.

When asked at the hearing if Massad, a tenured professor, faced any disciplinary action, Shafik responded he had been “spoken to” by the head of his department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies and his dean.

Shafik said she did not participate in those discussions but that Massad was told the language he used in his piece “was unacceptable.”

Massad told CNN no one said anything to him along those lines and he had not been reprimanded in any way.

“I was shown solidarity by my chair and deans based on the death threats that I received and the campaign targeting me,” he said in an email to CNN.

CNN reached out to his department chair and to the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to confirm Massad’s statements.

The department chair did not respond, while the dean, Amy Hungerford, referred the inquiry to a university spokesperson who did not offer any comment.

“Both stories cannot be true,” Republican Rep. Tim Walberg, who inquired at Wednesday’s hearing about any disciplinary actions regarding Massad’s piece, said in an emailed statement to CNN on Thursday.

“If Professor Massad’s department chair showed ‘solidarity’ following his comments, it undermines President Shafik’s testimony and raises even more concerns about the antisemitic atmosphere amongst faculty,” he added. “We must figure out who is telling the truth.”

Initially, Shafik said Massad was no longer chair of the Academic Review Committee at Columbia and that he “does not have a leadership role.” But when Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik pointed out that he’s still listed as the chair of the committee on a Columbia site, Shafik said she “wasn’t sure.”

Massad told CNN he remains chair of the committee that oversees all areas of Arts and Sciences, which covers five different schools within Columbia, until his one-year term expires in a few weeks. “No one has contacted me at all from the university with regards to my current chairmanship,” he said, adding that he intends to remain a member of the committee next year for a three-year term.

“Professor Massad has chaired his final meeting of the academic review committee,” a different Columbia spokesperson told CNN. The spokesperson did not respond when asked by CNN to clarify if that meant he had been removed.

CNN reached out to other professors who were criticized during the hearing, as well.

Mohamed Abdou, who Shafik said expressed support for Hamas on social media following October 7, did not respond to a request for comment.

Columbia Business School assistant professor Shai Davidai, who Shafik said was under investigation for harassment, told CNN that he has never spoken against students by name, only “pro-Hamas” student organizations and professors.

“They’re investigating me for the entire reason this hearing was held in the first place. Columbia is investigating me for my social media tweets and only my social media tweets,” he said.

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