Columbia University continues negotiations with student activists about dismantling the encampment

Columbia University continues negotiations with student activists about dismantling the encampment

Columbia University says it has extended negotiations with student activists over the demolition of a pro-Palestinian encampment that has caused turmoil on its campus, a spokeswoman for the school said.

The statement was issued early Tuesday morning – just hours after Columbia’s president announced it had set a midnight deadline to reach an agreement or the university would consider “alternative options” to clean up the encampment. The talks will now be extended for another 48 hours after “significant progress” is made, the spokesman said.

As the protests reach their eighth day, Columbia President Minouche Shafik has faced numerous calls from donors and lawmakers who believe the police should be brought in to clear the encampments and restore order on campus — even as students and faculty denounced similar decisions by past presidents. week to have the New York Police Department clean up other student encampments.

Student organizers issued a statement shortly after midnight saying their representatives walked out of negotiations Tuesday after the university threatened to call in the police and the National Guard if protesters “did not agree to their demands.”

Columbia did not comment on the allegations when CNN asked for a response to the student’s statement.

More than 80 tents filled the yard before the deadline late Tuesday night as hundreds of people gathered in and around the campsites. The university said the student protesters had “committed to dismantling and removing a large number of tents” and agreed that people not affiliated with the university would leave the encampments.

Student activists “have taken steps to make the camp welcoming to all and have prohibited discriminatory or harassing language,” the university said.

The protesters said they would not disperse until the university agreed to sever ties with Israeli academic institutions and committed to the “complete divestment” of Columbia’s funds from entities linked to Israel, among other demands. But the editor-in-chief of Columbia’s student newspaper told CNN that the negotiating parties appeared to be struggling to find a middle ground.

“There seems to be very little space in terms of where universities want to meet students and students want to meet universities. There doesn’t seem to be much room in terms of compromise,” said Isabella Ramirez, editor-in-chief of the Columbia Spectator, Tuesday night.

Days of unrest on campus, as well as gatherings of non-student protesters outside university gates, have led to safety concerns among Jewish students and prompted Columbia to move to mostly hybrid classes on its main campus for the rest of the semester.

“I fully support the importance of freedom of speech, respect the right to demonstrate, and recognize that many protesters have gathered peacefully,” Shafik said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon. “However, the encampment raises serious safety concerns, disrupts campus life, and has created a tense and sometimes hostile environment for many members of our community.”

Tensions are high, especially when Jewish students, faculty and staff celebrate Passover. Elected officials from New York mayors through President Joe Biden have commented, with House leaders issuing statements on both sides of the aisle.

House Speaker Mike Johnson said he plans to visit Jewish students at Columbia on Wednesday and hold a press conference “on the alarming rise of antisemitism on America’s college campuses,” according to his office.

As the national spotlight has fallen on Columbia, similar encampments are growing at other schools, and officials across the country are grappling with a response to what has become a coast-to-coast outbreak.

Nearly a week after Columbia’s president came under fire from faculty and students for calling on the New York Police Department to clean up pro-Palestinian encampments, arrests have occurred on other campuses across the United States as well. More than 100 students from Columbia University and Barnard College were arrested last Thursday. Barnard President Lisa Rosenbury confirmed in a statement Monday that temporarily suspended students “no longer have access to most Barnard buildings.”

More than 130 people were arrested at New York University at a pro-Palestinian protest Monday night. NYU said it sought help from the NYPD after school officials said there were “scary chants and several antisemitic incidents” during the protest. That led to scenes of chaotic confrontations between protesters and police in full riot gear. An NYPD official said the demonstration was not violent overall, except for a few bottles that were thrown at police officers.

Yale University police arrested 45 protesters Monday and charged them with criminal trespassing after they refused orders to leave, police in New Haven, Connecticut, said, although dozens of protesters remained Tuesday morning.

Other schools joined in unity
Students across the United States have protested in solidarity with Gaza and suspended Columbia students this week.

Students, faculty and staff at the University of New Mexico peacefully protested Monday in support of Gaza, the university said in a statement Tuesday. Nine people were arrested Tuesday morning at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus after they formed an encampment in violation of school policy.

Pro-Palestinian camps have also been established at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emerson College, the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Michigan.

Harvard University has closed Harvard Yard and officials at the university suspended a pro-Palestinian student organization for allegedly violating school policy.

What is it like in Columbia?
Columbia students are continuing their encampment and have said they will not leave until demands are met – a “complete release” from anything related to Israel, financial transparency into the university’s investments and amnesty from any disciplinary measures for students who take part in the protests.

University officials warned earlier Tuesday that the encampment violated school rules but did not impose specific disciplinary consequences. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said on Tuesday that authorities had identified “outside disruptors” who caused problems at the mostly peaceful student protests at Columbia, NYU and other schools in the city.

Camp at Columbia University was lively earlier this week, with many students gathering in circles, eating and talking.

A group of Jewish and non-Jewish students gathered at the camp to celebrate the Passover Seder Monday night. Columbia student Cameron Jones told CNN: “I’m Jewish and, for me, Passover symbolizes perseverance and resilience. I think this camp represents both of those ideals because we’ve seen universities take countless steps to try to stifle our student activism, and here we are sticking through it.”

But some other Jewish students said they feared for their safety. Jacob Schmeltz, a senior at Columbia, told CNN he usually celebrates Easter on campus, but has chosen to come home for the holiday this year.

“Jewish students are enough, and to the point where we feel safer off campus than there,” he said.

In the national spotlight
As the protests progressed, they increasingly attracted the attention of lawmakers. On Tuesday, the White House said that Biden was “certainly aware” of pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses across the country.

“We know that this is a painful moment for many communities, we respect that, and we support the right of every American to protest peacefully, that’s something we’ve been consistent with,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates told reporters.

Bates also reiterated that the White House condemned calls for violence and antisemitic rhetoric.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said Tuesday that efforts to crush antisemitism and hate “are not a Democrat or Republican issue.” It’s an American issue that should bind us all.”

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