NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There is mounting pressure on the admissions office at Columbia University. Syrian rights groups are demanding the university rescind the admission of the daughter of the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, who has alleged ties to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Last December, Barbara Walters landed an exclusive interview with al-Assad with the help of the president’s young press aid by the name of Shererazad Jafaari.
That 22-year-old is now the subject of an online petition by Columbia students wanting to keep her out of their school, CBS 2’s Rachel Stockman reported. She has become an international controversy, after getting admissions help from a veteran journalist.
Haya Dweidary is also from Syria and just graduated from the Columbia master’s program. She said she tried to warn admission officers about Jafaari’s alleged ties to the brutal regime.
“For me, she does not deserve to be here,” Dweidary said. “When you have on your resume that you are the direct media aid to Syrian president … they know what that regime is about. They have looked at her resume and they know what she is all about.”
Activists protesting the Syrian government are demanding Columbia rescind its offer.
“We are asking for all of the people with conscience, that see something wrong with this, how can an advisor to a vicious dictator be accepted into a university in the United States? How can this happen?” National Alliance spokesman Sarab al-Jsijakli said.
Despite multiple phone calls, and e-mail messages, no one from the Columbia University administration would go on camera with CBS 2, but they did issue the following statement:
“SIPA, or the School of International and Public Affairs, insists admissions are independent of those at any other school at Columbia and applicants are evaluated on the materials submitted…There is nothing about an individual student’s application or admittance that will alter this central academic focus and core civic values of the school.”
Some told Stockman the school has a point.
“I think Columbia is a private institution and they can accept whoever they want to accept,” one person said.
“Why should we block anyone from getting an education? This place only teaches you,” another said.
A spokesman for Walters insists Jafaari got into Columbia on her own merits, but did not deny that a good word was put in for her.
The situation in Syria is deteriorating. A report Tuesday from the UN accused Syrian troops of using children as shields by putting them on tanks to prevent rebels from firing back.
Also Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of supplying helicopters to Syria’s army.
Diplomatic hopes have rested on Washington and Moscow agreeing on a transition plan that would the end 40-year al-Assad regime.
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