Columbia threatens to suspend pro-Palestinian protesters after talks fail

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A student waves a flag during a march on Columbia University campus in support of a protest encampment supporting Palestinians, despite a 2pm deadline issued by university officials to disband or face suspension, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, U.S., April 29, 2024. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

By Julia Harte Reuters

Columbia University’s president said on Monday that talks with pro-Palestinian protesters over the dismantling of an encampment on the Ivy League campus had failed and urged them to voluntarily disperse or face suspension from school.

President Nemat Minouche Shafik said days of talks between student organizers and academic leaders had failed to break a stalemate over the tent encampment set up to protest Israel’s war in Gaza.

Shafik in a statement said Columbia would not divest assets that support Israel’s military, a key demand of the protesters, but offered to invest in health and education in Gaza, and make Columbia’s direct investment holdings more transparent.

Protesters have vowed to keep their encampment on the Manhattan campus until Columbia meets three demands: divestment, transparency in Columbia’s finances and amnesty for students and faculty disciplined for their part in the protests.

The university sent protesters a letter on Monday morning, warning that students who did not vacate the encampment by 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT) and sign a form acknowledging their participation would face suspension and become ineligible to complete the semester in good standing.

Even students who signed the form and left the area on Monday would still go on “disciplinary probation” until June 2025 or their graduation, whichever came first, according to the letter, which a Columbia spokesperson confirmed was authentic.00:14What polls can and can’t tell us

“These repulsive scare tactics mean nothing compared to the deaths of over 34,000 Palestinians. We will not move until Columbia meets our demands or we are moved by force,” the Columbia Student Apartheid Divest coalition said in a joint statement on Monday.

A university spokesperson said administrators would have no further comment.

Shafik faced an outcry from many students, faculty and outside observers for summoning New York City police two weeks ago to dismantle the encampment, resulting in more than 100 arrests.

Efforts to remove the encampment, which students set up again within days of the April 18 police action, have triggered dozens of similar protests at schools from California to Boston.

Last week, Columbia took no action when two deadlines it had imposed on protesters to reach an agreement slipped by without a deal. It had cited progress in the talks.

DEMONSTRATIONS AT FRANCE’S SORBONNE, CANADA’S MCGILL

Protests at Columbia and other U.S. universities continued at full force over the weekend, with more arrests around the country and skirmishes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at UCLA on Sunday.

Civil rights groups have criticized police violence at campuses such as Atlanta’s Emory University and the University of Texas at Austin, where police in riot gear and on horseback moved against the protesters last week, taking dozens into custody before charges against them were dropped for lacking probable cause.

Dozens of people at Virginia Tech were arrested overnight on Sunday at a student-led encampment, according to local media reports. A video posted on social media showed protesters chanting, “Shame on you,” as some were detained.

A spokesman for university did not immediately respond to a request for comment or give details on those detained.

The school in a post on its website said officials had told the protesters to leave, but they refused to comply. “The university recognized that the situation had the increasing potential to become unsafe,” the statement said, adding that those who refused to leave were charged with trespassing.

Similar demonstrations have sprung up at universities in other countries. Students at McGill University in Montreal set up about 20 pro-Palestinian protest camps on Saturday demanding the university divest from companies with links to Israel.

By Monday, the number of encampments on the downtown campus had tripled, but many were not set up by members of the McGill community, according to a statement by the university.

McGill also said it was investigating what it said was video evidence of some people using “unequivocally antisemitic language and intimidating behavior.” Students denied the allegation.

In Paris, days after protests at the elite Sciences Po school, police evacuated dozens of protesters who had set up tents in the yard of the Sorbonne University on Monday to mark their anger with the war in Gaza, one of the students told Reuters.

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