Columbia protesters say they’re at an impasse with administrators and will continue anti-war camp

Apr 25, 2024, 9:21 PM | Updated: Apr 26, 2024, 8:06 pm

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

The announcement after two days of exhaustive negotiations came as Columbia’s president faced harsh criticism from faculty — something that has been seen at several other universities where professors and staff similarly condemned leadership over the use of police against demonstrators, leading to fierce clashes, injuries and hundreds of arrests.

The tensions add pressure on school officials from California to Massachusetts who are scrambling to resolve the protests as May graduation ceremonies near.

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis worsens, protesters at universities all over the U.S. are demanding that 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, and safety concerns have prompted some of the heavier-handed approaches.

In one crackdown, in Denver, police swept through an encampment Friday at the Auraria Campus, which hosts three universities and colleges. Forty protesters who set up there the day before were arrested on what the campus said were trespassing charges for violating a camping ban.

At Columbia, student negotiators representing the encampment said that after meetings Thursday and Friday, the university had not met their primary demand for divestment, although there was 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.

Columbia officials had said earlier that talks were showing progress.

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

Meanwhile, Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, faced a significant — but largely symbolic — rebuke from faculty Friday but retained 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 took “many actions and decisions that have harmed Columbia University.” Those included calling in police and letting students 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.

“The faculty have completely lost confidence in President Shafik’s ability to lead this organization,” said Ege Yumusak, a philosophy lecturer who is part of a faculty team protecting the encampment.

In response, Chang said in the evening that “we are committed to an ongoing dialogue and appreciate the Senate’s constructive engagement in finding a pathway forward.”

Also Friday, student protester Khymani James walked back comments made in an online video in January that recently received new attention. James said in the video that “Zionists don’t deserve to live” and people should be grateful James wasn’t killing them.

“What I said was wrong,” James said in a statement. “Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification.”

James, who served as a spokesperson for the pro-Palestinian encampment as a member of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, was banned from campus Friday, according to a Columbia spokesperson.

Protest organizers said James’ comments didn’t reflect their values. They declined to describe James’ level of involvement with the demonstration.

On the opposite coast, protesters at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, barricaded themselves inside a building for the fifth day Friday. The administration gave them until 5 p.m. to leave and “not be immediately arrested,” a deadline that came and went.

University officials did not immediately respond to a request for an update or provide information on what they planned to do, and the campus has been closed for the remainder of the semester.

At Arizona State University, protesters pitched tents, including some that police dismantled, and at least one person was handcuffed and taken away Friday.

Police previously clashed with protesters Thursday at Indiana University, Bloomington, where 34 were arrested. There were about 36 arrests at Ohio State, and one at the University of Connecticut.

The president of Portland State University took a different approach Friday, announcing a forum to discuss protesters’ concerns and a pause on further gifts and grants from Boeing, after students asked that the school cut ties with the aerospace company.

The University of Southern California canceled its May 10 graduation ceremony Thursday, 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 ceremonies.

Elsewhere in New York, about a dozen protesters spent the night in tents and sleeping bags inside a building at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Protesters also stayed overnight at the encampment at George Washington University. Officials said in a statement that those who remained were trespassing on private property and disciplinary actions would be pursued against students involved in the unauthorized demonstrations.

At Emory University in Atlanta, video that circulated widely on social media showed two women who identified themselves as professors being detained, with one of them slammed to the ground by an officer as a second one pushed her chest and face onto a concrete sidewalk.

University President Gregory Fenves said via email that some videos of clashes were “shocking” and he was “horrified that members of our community had to experience and witness such interactions.”

Fenves blamed the campus unrest on “highly organized, outside protesters” who he said arrived in vans, put up tents and took over the quad. But in an earlier statement, school officials said that 20 of the 28 people arrested were members of the university community.

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 and Columbia.


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

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Columbia protesters say they’re at an impasse with administrators and will continue anti-war camp