Universities continue to grapple with pro-Palestinian protests ahead of graduation ceremonies

Universities continue to grapple with pro-Palestinian protests ahead of graduation ceremonies

Universities across the United States have used a number of tactics in recent weeks to avoid disruptions by pro-Palestinian protesters at graduation ceremonies. Some universities have reached agreements with protesters on campus, while others have expressed safety concerns and canceled, postponed or relocated their events across schools.

Some schools continue to grapple with pro-Palestinian protesters ahead of their spring start, subjecting themselves to internal scrutiny and public criticism.

Protesters arrested at UPenn
On Friday night, University of Pennsylvania police arrested 19 individuals, including seven students, following an attempt by pro-Palestinian protesters to occupy a university building, a university spokesperson told CNN Saturday.

Penn Against the Occupation announced their intention to occupy Fisher-Bennet Hall in a post on the group’s Instagram Friday night, calling on people to “flood UPenn for Palestine.”

The group asked the school’s administration, in part, to divest from companies “that profit from Israel’s war on Gaza and the occupation in Palestine and academically from Israeli institutions, condemning the scholasticism of Palestinian scholars and universities,” according to another Instagram post.

Friday’s arrest follows the arrest of at least 33 people on May 10 when law enforcement demolished a pro-Palestinian encampment set up on campus.

The latest campus arrest also comes just days before the university’s commencement ceremony on Monday, where students and their families will be subject to additional security procedures described as “airport-style security screening,” the university said in a security update earlier this month.

Guests and graduates will not be allowed to bring signs, posters, flags and artificial noise makers, according to school officials.

UCLA and Sonoma State face internal divisions
On Thursday, the Academic Senate at the University of California, Los Angeles rejected a resolution of no confidence and censure against Gene Block, the school’s chancellor.

The resolution was brought forward in the wake of an attack by counter-protesters on a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus on April 30, and claims Block “failed to ensure the safety of our students and mishandled” the situation.

The no-confidence motion failed after only 43% of members voted in favor of it. The resolution to censure failed to get the majority of votes needed to pass the senate. In total, 88 members voted in favor of the condemnation, while 88 were against, three abstained and 15 were present but did not vote.

“It is clear that we are not united in how we view the great event of the past week and the campus response to it,” Chair Andrea M. Kasko said Friday in a statement. “I hope we can try to find common ground as colleagues, and have the courage to listen with open minds and open hearts even when we disagree.”

Also Friday, Mildred García, chancellor of the California State University System, announced Sonoma State University President Mike Lee would resign after he sent a message “regarding an agreement with campus protesters … sent without proper approval.”

The statement Lee sent to the Sonoma State campus community on Tuesday included an agreement to establish a Students for Justice in Palestine advisory council as well as a review of the university’s vendor contracts and investments, according to a copy of the message obtained by CNN.

“SSU will not continue or engage in any study abroad program, faculty exchange, or other formal collaboration sponsored by, or representing, an Israeli academic and research institution,” Lee wrote, adding that the study abroad program in Israel will be “suspended. until further notice.”

On Wednesday, García announced Lee had been placed on administrative leave for “insubordination”.

Morehouse threatens to close ‘on the spot’ event
In Atlanta, Morehouse College President David A. Thomas said he would shut down Sunday’s commencement ceremony “on the spot” rather than allow police to remove student protesters during President Joe Biden’s highly anticipated graduation speech.

“What we do not allow is disruptive behavior that prevents the ceremony or service from proceeding in a way that can be enjoyed and enjoyed by those in attendance,” Thomas told CNN’s Victor Blackwell in an interview Thursday.

“So, for example, shouting protractedly at the president while he is speaking. I have also decided that we will also not ask the police to remove individuals from starting zip ties. If faced with a choice, I will stop the ceremony immediately If we reach that position.”

Biden’s presence at Morehouse, one of the nation’s top black colleges, comes as the president campaigns amid poor polling among young voters, with many expressing frustration with his administration’s continued support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Biden has faced several protests during his own speeches and campaign events. On January 23, his campaign speech on abortion rights at George Mason University in Virginia was interrupted more than a dozen times over his administration’s support for Israel.

Biden is expected to deliver the commencement address at the United States Military Academy at West Point on May 25.

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