Columbia issues midnight deadline to student protesters to reach agreement to clear encampment

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, April 24, 2024
Columbia issues midnight deadline to protesters to reach agreement
Lucy Yang has breaking details on the midnight deadline issued by Columbia University's president.

MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, Manhattan (WABC) -- The president of Columbia University is issuing a midnight deadline to student protesters to reach an agreement on clearing the encampment.

In a letter to the university community, Columbia President Minouche Shafik said that protesters will have until the end of Tuesday to come to an agreement on clearing the encampment occupying the West Lawn of the school's Morningside Heights campus.

"For several days, a small group of faculty, administrators, and University Senators have been in dialogue with student organizers to discuss the basis for dismantling the encampment, dispersing, and following university policies going forward. Those talks are facing a deadline of midnight tonight to reach agreement," Shafik said in her statement.

The midnight deadline comes as Columbia offers its students hybrid learning, giving them the option to attend classes online rather than in person, for the rest of the semester amid protests over Israel's war with Hamas that have roiled colleges across the U.S.

"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.

The demonstrators at Columbia are demanding the university divests from any company profiting off the war.

"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.

The encampment on campus remains nearly a week later. Some students have said they are afraid to set foot on Columbia's campus with tensions running high.

Officials at Columbia say that the safety of their community is their number one priority.

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

"We are also concerned about the presence of non-affiliates, that is people who are not members of the Columbia community in the encampment, who we want off campus," said Columbia University Vice President Ben Chang.

Chang said the University is acting on concerns from their Jewish students over safety and providing the necessary resources. There have been acts of vandalism on campus since the protests began, reports of harassment and discrimination.

"The current protests are in violation of university rules, full stop, and we are taking steps to resolve it," Chang said.

Some seniors who began school online during the pandemic four years ago will now end their time in college hybrid. 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.

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik previously released a statement saying she is deeply saddened by what is happening, and that classes on the main campus will be hybrid until the end of the semester -- which is next week.

The university said in a statement that "All faculty whose classrooms are located on the main Morningside campus and equipped with hybrid capabilities should enable them to provide virtual learning options" for the remainder of the semester.

In addition, the school said, "Faculty in other classrooms or teaching spaces that do not have capabilities for offering hybrid options should hold classes remotely if there are student requests for virtual participation."

House Speaker Mike Johnson is planning to visit with Jewish students at the school on Wednesday and deliver remarks.

On Monday, more than 150 untenured faculty members submitted an open letter showing support for the student protesters.

Shafik has been criticized from all sides. The U.S. House Republicans from New York sent a letter on Monday urging her to resign, saying she failed to provide a safe learning environment for the students.

Governor Kathy Hochul was on Columbia's campus Monday to meet with Shafik and NYPD officials about safety on campus.

"Students are scared, they're afraid to walk on campus, they don't deserve that," Hochul said in a video message posted to social media.

The University announced Monday that it plans to more than double campus public safety, instead of using the NYPD.

"When it comes to the university's internal rules, rules about how and when students can gather, those are university rules. We are not the enforcers of those rules," said NYPD Deputy Commissioner Michael Gerber. "When we went in on Thursday that was because the university contacted us and said these students had broken various rules."

While classes may be over next week, graduation is set to take place on May 15. It's not clear right now if those plans will be impacted at all as it was set to be held on the lawn where the encampment now resides.

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.

Robert Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots football team and funded the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life across from Columbia's campus, said he was suspending donations to the university.

"I am no longer confident that Columbia can protect its students and staff and I am not comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken," he said in a statement.

Protests were also growing at other campuses in the Tri-State area.

At NYU in Greenwich Village, students set up tents at Gould Plaza and marched to show their support for the demonstration at Columbia.

Jim Dolan is live at Gould Plaza as protests continue at NYU.

On Sunday, students not far away at the New School, staged a demonstration, in a show of solidarity. Officials at the New School have reportedly agreed to meet with protesters to discuss their issues.

And at Yale University in Connecticut at least 45 people as pro-Palestine demonstrators gathered over the weekend to demand the university give up its investment in military weapons manufacturers.

On Monday, Yale police demanded they leave the campus and those who refused were charged with criminal trespass. University officials say any students who were arrested will face disciplinary action.

Campus protests began after Hamas' deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. During the ensuing war, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, which doesn't distinguish between combatants and noncombatants but says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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