Columbia protesters say they're at an impasse with administrators and will continue anti-war camp
Posted: April 27, 2024 - 2:02am

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University students who inspired pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the country said Friday that they have reached an impasse with administrators and intend to continue their encampment until their demands are met.

The announcement after two days of exhaustive negotiations comes as Columbia's president faces harsh criticism from faculty. The development puts more pressure on university officials to find a resolution ahead of planned graduation ceremonies next month — a problem that campuses from California to Massachusetts are facing.

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis worsens, protesters at universities across the country are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus, partly prompting the calls for police intervention.

After a tent encampment popped up Thursday at Indiana University Bloomington, police with shields and batons shoved into protesters and arrested 34. Hours later at the University of Connecticut, police tore down tents and arrested one person.

And at Ohio State University, police clashed with protesters just hours after they gathered Thursday evening. Those who refused to leave after warnings were arrested and charged with criminal trespass, said university spokesperson Benjamin Johnson, citing rules barring overnight events. He said a preliminary report indicated there were 36 arrests, including 16 students and 20 people unaffiliated with the university.

The clock is ticking as May commencement ceremonies near, putting added pressure on schools to clear demonstrations. At Columbia, protesters defiantly erected a tent encampment where many are set to graduate in front of families in just a few weeks.

Columbia officials had said that negotiations were showing progress as the school’s self-imposed early Friday deadline to reach an agreement on dismantling the encampment came and went. Nevertheless, two police buses were parked nearby and there was a noticeable presence of private security and police at entrances to the campus.

“We have our demands; they have theirs,” said Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Columbia University, adding that if the talks fail the university will have to consider other options.

Student negotiators representing the Columbia encampment said that after meeting with administrators for 11 hours Thursday and another hour Friday, the university had not met their primary demand for divestment, although they had made progress on a push for more transparent financial disclosures.

“We will not rest until Columbia divests,” said Jonathan Ben-Menachem, a fourth-year doctoral student.

Meanwhile. Columbia's president, Minouche Shafik, faced a significant — but largely symbolic — rebuke from faculty Friday but retains the support of trustees, who have the power to hire or fire the president.

A report by the university senate’s executive committee, which represents faculty, found Shafik and her administration had “taken many actions and decisions that have harmed Columbia University.” Those included calling in police and allowing students to be arrested without consulting faculty, failing to defend the institution in the face of external pressures, misrepresenting and suspending student protest groups, and hiring private investigators.

Just past midnight, a group of some three dozen pro-Palestinian protesters handed out signs and started chanting outside of the locked Columbia University gates. They then marched away as at least 40 police officers assembled nearby.

On Friday morning, hundreds of counterprotesters gathered on the streets outside Columbia, many holding Israeli flags and chanting for the hostages being held by Hamas and other militants to be released.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, has been negotiating with students who have been barricaded inside a campus building since Monday, rebuffing an attempt by the police to clear them out. Faculty members met with protesters Thursday to try to negotiate a solution as the campus remains shut down at least through the weekend.

The school's senate of faculty and staff demanded the university's president resign in a nonbinding vote of no confidence Thursday, citing the decision to call police in to remove the barricaded students Monday.

On the other end of the state, the University of Southern California canceled the school's May 10 graduation ceremony. The announcement was made a day after more than 90 protesters were arrested on campus. The university said it will still host dozens of commencement events, including all the traditional individual school commencement ceremonies.

Tensions were already high after USC canceled a planned commencement speech by the school’s pro-Palestinian valedictorian, citing safety concerns.

At the City College of New York on Thursday, hundreds of students who were gathered on the lawn beneath the Harlem campus’ famed gothic buildings erupted in cheers after a small contingent of police officers retreated from the scene. In one corner of the quad, a “security training” was held among students.

Elsewhere in the city, about a dozen protesters spent the night in tents and sleeping bags inside a building at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The institute's museum, which is in the building where the demonstrators set up camp, was closed Friday.

Protesters also stayed overnight at the encampment at George Washington University.

The university said in a statement Friday morning that those who remain are trespassing on private property and officials will pursue disciplinary actions against students involved in the unauthorized demonstrations.

Emory University President Gregory Fenves said in an email Friday that some of the videos of a clash between police and people on the campus “are shocking” and that he is “horrified that members of our community had to experience and witness such interactions.”

Fenves blamed the unrest at the Atlanta campus on “highly organized, outside protesters” who he said arrived in vans, put up tents and overtook the quad.

But in an earlier statement, school officials had said that 20 of the 28 people arrested were members of the university community.

Video circulated widely on social media shows two women who identified themselves as professors being detained, with one of them slammed to the ground by an officer as a second officer pushes her chest and face onto a concrete sidewalk.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the U.S. Education Department has launched civil rights investigations into dozens of universities and schools in response to complaints of antisemitism or Islamophobia. Among those under investigation are many colleges facing protests, including Harvard University and Columbia.


Perry reported from Meredith, New Hampshire. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists in various locations including Aaron Morrison, Stefanie Dazio, Kathy McCormack, Jim Vertuno, Acacia Coronado, Sudhin Thanawala, Jeff Amy, Mike Stewart, Collin Binkley, Carolyn Thompson, Jake Offenhartz and Sophia Tareen.