House speaker visits Columbia as negotiations continue between protesters and officials

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Thursday, April 25, 2024
House Speaker Mike Johnson visits Columbia as protest negotiations continue
CeFaan Kim has the latest on protests at Columbia University.

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, Manhattan (WABC) -- Columbia University averted another confrontation between students and police early Wednesday, but the situation remained tense with campus officials saying it would continue talks with pro-Palestinian protesters for another 48 hours.

University President Minouche Shafik had set a midnight deadline to reach an agreement on clearing an encampment of protesters on campus but the school extended negotiations, saying it was making "important progress." Student protesters had committed to dismantling and removing a significant number of tents, the New York Ivy League university said in a statement.

On Wednesday about 60 tents remained at the encampment, which appeared calm, with students going in and out - one girl holding a toothbrush. A woman spoke on a loudspeaker about the reasons for the protest. Security remained tight around campus, with identification required and police setting up metal barricades.

Protesters have agreed to ensure only Columbia students participate in any continuing protests, and those not affiliated with the school will leave the premises.

That also includes taking steps to make the encampment welcome to all and prohibiting discriminatory or harassing language. There have been many reports of aggressive or antisemitic incidents surrounding the protests.

The university has also agreed not to call in the NYPD of the National Guard before the 48-hour window expires.

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It's a momentary truce, but student protestors say they're not going anywhere until their demands are met. The demonstrators at Columbia are demanding the university divest from any company profiting off the war between Israel and Hamas.

"The protest is against university rules and we are taking steps to resolve it," said Ben Chang, Vice President for Communication at Columbia University.

Later Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Mike Johnson was at Columbia to hold a news conference on what he says is a troubling rise of antisemitism on college campuses nationwide.

"There's executive authority that would be appropriate, if this is not contained quickly and if these threats and intimidation do not stop, there is appropriate time for the National Guard," Johnson said. "We have to bring order to these campuses."

The speaker added that he does not think Shafik has the situation under control.

The option for virtual classes continues at Columbia for the rest of the semester and officials announced Wednesday that final exams will also be hybrid.

"I think the university has ultimately failed. I think that offering hybrid classes is helpful for students, but it's basically saying we cannot, or will not protect you," said Columbia freshman Noah Lederman.

More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia's green were arrested last week, and similar encampments have sprouted up at universities around the country as schools struggle with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining safe and inclusive campuses.

"It gives me so much hope that students are standing up for what they believe in. You look at history -- students have always been on the right side of history," said Edwina Dahar, a senior.

Officials at Columbia say that the safety of their community is their number one priority but there are now questions about the holding of commencement given the current situation.

"We're hoping like graduation doesn't get affected too much. I think there are conversations about moving it to Yankee Stadium or somewhere off campus, like a completely virtual graduation," said senior Lance Wong.

As for Speaker Johnson, Governor Hochul encouraged him to go back to Washington and take up the migrant bill.

"Politicizing this and bringing the entourage to put a spotlight on this is only adding to the division," she said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry and Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Tarik Sheppard talk about the protests on Eyewitness News Mornings @ 10

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Operations Kaz Daughtry and Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Tarik Sheppard talk about the protests.


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