Columbia University's senate votes to investigate school leadership amid ongoing demonstrations

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Friday, April 26, 2024
More arrests at Columbia University protests as peace talks continue
Anthony Carlo has more on the protests at Columbia University.

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, Manhattan (WABC) -- Columbia University's Faculty Senate voted Friday to investigate the school's leadership, led by President Minouche Shafik, amid the university's handling of the ongoing pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus.

The senate voted, 62-14, overwhelmingly in favor of investigating the school's leadership. The 13-member executive committee shared a report that cited many actions and decisions that it believes have harmed the institution. Notably, the committee was unanimously against bringing the NYPD on campus to clear protesters from their encampment last Thursday, but Shafik did so anyway.

It marked a significant - but largely symbolic - rebuke from faculty Friday, but Shafik retained the support of trustees, who have the power to hire or fire the president. The body stopped short of censuring Shafik, a stricter discipline that could have hastened calls for her resignation.

"The administration and Columbia University Faculty Senate share the same goal of restoring calm to campus, so everyone can pursue their educational activities," said Ben Chang, Vice President of Communications at Columbia. "The university is committed to an ongoing dialogue and appreciate the senates constructive engagement as we find a pathway forward."

It comes as 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 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.

Police made a few arrests outside Columbia on Thursday, but it was minimal in comparison to when tensions escalated after New York police flooded the campus and arrested more than 100 activists last week. Officials said they took the "extraordinary step" of requesting police intervention because the encampment had disrupted campus life and created a "harassing and intimidating environment" for many students.

On Friday, hundreds of counter-protesters 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.

The Jewish students and organizations are urging the school to protect its students -- many of whom said they fear for their lives because of the violent rhetoric of the protesters.

"My peers, my friends, my family are afraid, I cannot walk around my own campus looking visibly Jewish without preparing myself for the possibility that someone might spit on or attack me," said student Noa Fay. "We have been afraid all year and I am done with it."

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The school hopes to find a solution that would remove protesters from campus in time for Columbia's May 15 commencement. The University of Southern California has already canceled their commencement plans due to their campus protests, and is looking for alternate plans to honor the graduates.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she will call on university presidents statewide to ensure all graduation ceremonies are safe for everyone.

"I want to know that this is well thought out, what protections do you have, security measures in place, additional resources you are bringing to the table," Hochul said.

Though NYPD officers could be seen guarding the campus gates early Friday morning, the university quelled any rumors that the NYPD is coming back onto campus. Shafik has said her decision to bring the NYPD in to deal with the ongoing protests was ineffective.

ALSO WATCH | Mayor Adams addresses unrest on NYC college campuses

Bill Ritter spoke with Mayor Eric Adams about the protests at Columbia University and other colleges in New York City.

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.

At this point, classes and final exams at Columbia will remain virtual or hybrid.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

ALSO WATCH | Multiple arrests during protest at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn

In a demonstration Tuesday night, arrests were made at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.


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