UNITED STATES NEWS

Striking deals to end campus protests, some colleges invite discussion of their investments

May 2, 2024, 9:17 PM | Updated: May 3, 2024, 7:38 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Anti-war demonstrations ceased this week at a small number of U.S. universities after school leaders struck deals with pro-Palestinian protesters, fending off possible disruptions of final exams and graduation ceremonies.

The agreements at schools including Brown, Northwestern and Rutgers stand out amid the chaotic scenes and 2,400-plus arrests on 46 campuses nationwide since April 17. Tent encampments and building takeovers have disrupted classes at some schools, including Columbia and UCLA.

Deals included commitments by universities to review their investments in Israel or hear calls to stop doing business with the longtime U.S. ally. Many protester demands have zeroed in on links to the Israeli military as the war grinds on in Gaza.

The agreements to even discuss divestment mark a major shift on an issue that has been controversial for years, with opponents of a long-running campaign to boycott Israel saying it veers into antisemitism. But while the colleges have made concessions around amnesty for protesters and funding for Middle Eastern studies, they have made no promises about changing their investments.

“I think for some universities, it might be just a delaying tactic to diffuse the protests,” said Ralph Young, a history professor who studies American dissent at Temple University in Philadelphia. “The end of the semester is happening now. And maybe by the time the next semester begins, there is a cease-fire in Gaza.”

Some university boards may never even vote on divesting from Israel, which can be a complicated process, Young said. And some state schools have said they lack the authority to do so.

But Young said dialogue is a better tactic than arrests, which can inflame protesters.

Talking “at least gives the protesters the feeling that they’re getting somewhere,” he said. “Whether they are getting somewhere or not is another question.”

Protesters at the University of Vermont notched a victory when the administration announced Friday that their commencement speaker, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, would no longer be giving an address to graduates later this month. The protesters, who erected an encampment Sunday, had demanded Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s speech be removed from the upcoming ceremony because of her role in the U.S. vetoes of multiple UN cease-fire resolutions.

Israel has called the protests antisemitic; its critics say the country uses such allegations to silence opposition. Although some protesters were caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, protest organizers — some of whom are Jewish — have called it a peaceful movement to defend Palestinian rights and protest the war.

Administrators at the University of California, Riverside, announced an agreement Friday with protesters to close their campus encampment. The deal included the formation of a task force to explore removing Riverside’s endowment from the broader UC system’s management and investing those funds “in a manner that will be financially and ethically sound for the university with consideration to the companies involved in arms manufacturing and delivery.”

The announcement marked an apparent split with the policy of the 10-campus UC system, which last week said it opposes “calls for boycott against and divestment from Israel.”

“While the University affirms the right of our community members to express diverse viewpoints, a boycott of this sort impinges on the academic freedom of our students and faculty and the unfettered exchange of ideas on our campuses,” the system said in a statement. “UC tuition and fees are the primary funding sources for the University’s core operations. None of these funds are used for investment purposes.”

Demonstrators at Rutgers University — where finals were paused due to the protests on its New Brunswick campus — similarly packed up their tents Thursday afternoon. The state university agreed to establish an Arab Cultural Center and to not retaliate against any students involved in the camp.

In a statement, Chancellor Francine Conway noted protesters’ request for divestment from companies doing business with Israel and for Rutgers to cut ties with Tel Aviv University. She said the the request is under review, but “such decisions fall outside of our administrative scope.”

Protesters at Brown University in Rhode Island agreed to dismantle their encampment Tuesday. School officials said students could present arguments for divesting Brown’s endowment from companies contributing to and profiting from the war in Gaza.

In addition, Brown President Christina Paxson will ask an advisory committee to make a recommendation on divestment by Sept. 30, which will be put before the school’s governing corporation for a vote in October.

Northwestern’s Deering Meadow in suburban Chicago also fell silent after an agreement Monday. The deal curbed protest activity in return for the reestablishment of an advisory committee on university investments and other commitments.

The arrangement drew dissent from both sides. Some pro-Palestinian protesters condemned it as a failure to stick to their original demands, while some supporters of Israel said it represented “cowardly” capitulation.

Seven of 18 members subsequently resigned from a university committee that advises the administration on addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia and expressions of hatred on campus, saying they couldn’t continue to serve “with antisemitism so present at Northwestern in public view for the past week.”

Michael Simon, the executive director of an organization for Jewish students, Northwestern Hillel, said he resigned after concluding that the committee could not achieve its goals.

Faculty at Pomona College in California voted in favor of divesting from companies they said are funding Israel’s war in Gaza, a group of faculty and students said Friday.

The vote Thursday is not binding on the liberal arts school of nearly 1,800 students east of Los Angeles. But supporters said they hope it would encourage the board to stop investing in these companies and start disclosing where it makes its investments.

“This nonbinding faculty statement does not represent any official position of Pomona College,” the school said in a statement. “We will continue to encourage further dialogue within in our community, including consideration of counterarguments.”

Meanwhile, arrests of demonstrators continued elsewhere.

About a dozen protesters who refused police orders to leave an encampment at New York University were arrested early Friday, and about 30 more left voluntarily, NYU spokesperson John Beckman said. The school asked city police to intervene, he added.

NYPD officers also cleared an encampment at The New School in Greenwich Village on the request of school administrators. No arrests were announced.

Another 132 protesters were arrested when police broke up an encampment at the State University of New York at New Paltz starting late Thursday, authorities said.

And nine were arrested at the University of Tennessee, including seven students who Chancellor Donde Plowman said would also be sanctioned under the school’s code of conduct.

The movement began April 17 at Columbia, where student protesters built an encampment to call for an end to the Israel-Hamas war.

More than 100 people were arrested late Tuesday when police broke up the Columbia encampment. One officer accidentally discharged his gun inside Hamilton Hall during that operation, but no one was injured, the NYPD said late Thursday.

Over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there. Israel launched its offensive after Oct. 7, when Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages in an attack on southern Israel.

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This story has been corrected to show that 132 protesters were arrested at the State University of New York at New Paltz, not 133.

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Foody reported from Chicago, Catalini from Morrisville, Pennsylvania, and Hill from Altamont, New York. AP journalists around the country contributed, including Amy Taxin, Lisa Rathke, Hannah Schoenbaum, Ben Finley, Julie Watson, Carolyn Thompson, Kavish Harjai, John Antczak, Lisa Baumann, Colleen Long, Sarah Brumfield, Philip Marcelo, Steve Karnowski, Cedar Attanasio, Stefanie Dazio and Gene Johnson.

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Striking deals to end campus protests, some colleges invite discussion of their investments