Columbia Orders Protesters to Disperse As Negotiations Stall


Pro-Palestinian supporters continue to organize a protest encampment on the campus of Columbia University on April 26, 2024, in New York City.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Negotiations between Columbia University administrators and members of an ongoing encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters on the campus have come to a standstill. In a statement issued Monday morning, Columbia president Minouche Shafik said that academic leaders had engaged in “constructive dialogue” with student organizers on how to proceed, but that those talks have stalled. “Regretfully, we were not able to come to an agreement,” she said.

Members of the student-led encampment on the university’s lawn were notified by school administrators that they had until 2 p.m. Monday to “voluntarily leave” or risk interim suspension.

The campus is still reeling from the school’s controversial move to allow the NYPD to break up the encampment and arrest more than a hundred students on April 18 — though the demonstration quickly reformed. Though Shafik urged those now in the encampment to “voluntarily disperse,” she made no reference in her universitywide statement about forcing them to do so or whether law enforcement would be involved. “We are consulting with a broader group in our community to explore alternative internal options to end this crisis as soon as possible,” she said.

Shafik said Columbia’s main objective was to come to an agreement over disbanding the encampment as well as getting organizers to agree to follow school rules for future demonstrations. The president made it clear that the university has no plans to financially divest from Israel, the main request of the demonstrators, but said both sides put forward “robust and thoughtful offers and worked in good faith to reach common ground.”

She expressed particular concern about Columbia’s ability to hold its 2024 commencement. The University of Southern California recently announced that it was canceling its main schoolwide commencement ceremony following the backlash to its decision to bar Asna Tabassum, the valedictorian, from giving her planned speech due to pushback from pro-Israel groups.

“We also do not want to deprive thousands of students and their families and friends of a graduation celebration. Please recall that many in this graduating class did not get a celebration when graduating from high school because of the pandemic, and many of them are the first in their families to earn a University degree. We owe it to all of our graduates and their loved ones to honor their achievement,” Shafik said.

In the weeks since student organizers began their protest on Columbia’s campus, like-minded demonstrations have emerged on campuses across the country. Law enforcement has arrested hundreds of students at Emory University, Virginia Tech, the University of Texas at Austin, and New York University, among others. Politicians from both sides of the aisle have descended upon Columbia University in the wake of the unrest. Last week, House Speaker Mike Johnson called for Shafik’s resignation among boos from assembled students. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who previously called out the police response to Columbia’s encampment, met with organizers last week during a visit to the campus.

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