Columbia University begins suspending students who refuse to leave encampment

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Monday, April 29, 2024
Columbia protesters told to leave encampment or face suspension
N.J. Burkett has the latest from Columbia University hours after the deadline passed.

NEW YORK -- Columbia University says they have begun suspending students after a 2 p.m. deadline for student protesters to pack up and leave their encampment on the main lawn came and went without any movement from demonstrators.

In a daily audio only briefing, Ben Chang, Vice President, Office of Public Affairs for Columbia, said the administration has begun suspending students as part of a next phase to ensure safety on campus. He did not say how many students have been suspended so far, and said there is a discipline process

He said the university was "hopeful" during negotiations and "were discouraged when students were unable to come to a consensus."

The students instead were staying in place as hundreds marched around the encampment Monday afternoon. Protesters say they're ready to escalate and that business cannot go on as usual during genocide.

Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine said the university distributed leaflets telling the group to leave the encampment by the 2 p.m. deadline or risk suspensions and probation until June 2025.

They say they are also being threatened with evictions from housing and possible expulsion.

A portion of the letter, obtained by ABC News, told students they would be eligible to complete the semester in good standing if they voluntarily leave and sign a provided form abiding by school policies.

Sueda Polat, a Columbia graduate student who is negotiating for students, reiterated after the 2 p.m. deadline had passed that any settlement must include university divestment from Israel, which Columbia said earlier Monday was not on the table.

She said students thought they were engaged in "good faith negotiations" until the university "cut them off." She acknowledged the deadline to disperse had come and gone and said it was against the will of the students to disperse and they will not abide by university pressures.

She said the students would return to the table if Columbia were willing to discuss divestment from Israel.

Earlier Monday morning, in a letter from University President Minouche Shafik, the school said it would not divest from Israel, rejecting the student protesters' "priority demand."

The school also said it will only allow on-campus protests by application and with two days' notice in authorized locations.

Shafik said the university has "offered to develop an expedited timeline for review of new proposals from the students by the Advisory Committee for Socially Responsible Investing, the body that considers divestment matters."

She urged "those in the encampment to voluntarily disperse" and the university is exploring "alternative internal options to end this crisis as soon as possible."

The university wants the protesters cleared by its May 15 commencement.

"We also do not want to deprive thousands of students and their families and friends of a graduation celebration. Please recall that many in this graduating class did not get a celebration when graduating from high school because of the pandemic, and many of them are the first in their families to earn a University degree. We owe it to all of our graduates and their loved ones to honor their achievement."

Monday is the last day of classes for Columbia University students. Many will have the option of taking final exams remotely over the coming week as protesters encamping the South Lawn continue negotiations with the university.

The university acknowledged the pain the encampment has caused, especially for Jewish students.

"I know that many of our Jewish students, and other students as well, have found the atmosphere intolerable in recent weeks. Many have left campus, and that is a tragedy," the statement said. "To those students and their families, I want to say to you clearly: You are a valued part of the Columbia community. This is your campus too. We are committed to making Columbia safe for everyone, and to ensuring that you feel welcome and valued."

A Jewish student who is remaining anonymous filed a lawsuit in federal court against Columbia University, claiming it is failing to provide a safe learning environment for students. The lawsuit seeks class action status, which means the student is looking for others to join in.

The "Jewish student in her second year" says her education has been disrupted by the hostile environment on campus. It argues Columbia has "become a place that is too dangerous for Columbia's Jewish students to receive the education they were promised."

"Jewish students...get a second-class education where they are relegated to their homes to attend classes virtually and stripped of the opportunity to interact meaningfully with other students and faculty and sit for examinations with their peers," the lawsuit said. "The segregation of Jewish students is a dangerous development that can quickly escalate into more severe acts of violence and discrimination."

The student is seeking to "hold Columbia accountable for failing to provide a safe educational environment for its students."

Key moments over last week at Columbia University

There has been growing criticism of Columbia's handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus, including the administration asking the NYPD to come in and clear protesters, resulting in more than 100 arrests earlier this month.

By a vote of 62-14, Columbia's Faculty Senate on Friday voted overwhelmingly in favor to investigate the school's leadership, led by President Minouche Shafik.

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 votes came as Columbia banned a student protest leader from campus for incendiary comments he made back in January.

In a video that recently resurfaced, Khymani James, a student activist associated with the Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) coalition, made the comment that "Zionists don't deserve to live."

In an interview with Bill Ritter for Up Close, New York City Mayor Eric Adams called the college protests unprecedented. Adams said during the interview that he believes outside agitators are behind the demonstrations.

"I have never witnessed the type of hateful, harmful and painful terminology that we're witnessing right now. I cannot recall any time in the period of protesting that we called for the eradication or extinction of any particular group," Adams said.

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.