columbia encampment

Columbia University students participate in an ongoing pro-Palestinian encampment on their campus on April 26, 2024 in New York City.

(Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Columbia Gives Student Encampment 2PM Deadline to Pack Up—Or Else

One student organizer called the move "just another intimidation tactic from the university."

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As Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and progressives around the world praise U.S. student protesters for pressuring their institutions to divest from Israel and its war on the besieged enclave, Columbia University on Monday gave members of a campus encampment a 2:00 pm deadline to leave or face suspension.

After hundreds of students and faculty surrounded the encampment to express support for anti-war demonstrators following the notice, Ben Chang, Columbia's vice president for communications, told journalists around 5:00 pm that the university had begun suspending students.

The New York Timesreported that "according to the university, only the students who remained in the encampment after 2:00 pm would face immediate suspension, not the hundreds of other students who were encircling the camp to protect it and show their support."

Mary Lawlor, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights defenders, said on social media: "I'm hearing disturbing reports that students face suspension if they don't end their peaceful protests in Columbia University in the USA. This is a clear violation of their right to peaceful assembly."

The Ivy League university had already suspended over 100 students, who were arrested after president Minouche Shafik invited New York Police Department officers to clear the first encampment. Since Columbia students built the initial encampment, similar demonstrations have popped up at dozens of campuses across the country throughout April.

"As you are probably aware, the dialogue between the university and student leaders of the encampment is, regrettably, at an impasse," says Columbia's notice, noting that finals are beginning and graduation looms. "The university will offer an alternative venue for the demonstrations after the exam period and commencement have concluded. If the encampment is not removed, we will need to initiate disciplinary procedures because of a number of violations of university policies."

"If you voluntarily leave by 2:00 pm, identify yourself to a university official, and sign the provided form where you commit to abide by all university policies through June 30, 2025, or the date of the conferral of your degree, whichever is earlier, you will be eligible to complete the semester in good standing (and will not be placed on suspension) as long as you adhere to this commitment," the document continues.

The notice states that "it is important for you to know that the university has already identified many students in the encampment. If you do not identify yourself upon leaving and sign the form now, you will not be eligible to sign and complete the semester in good standing. If you do not leave by 2:00 pm, you will be suspended pending further investigation."

Suspended students, the document details, are restricted from all university property, are ineligible to participate in any academic or extracurricular activities, and must notify the Department of Public Safety to conduct any official business on campus. The notice adds that those who do not leave the encampment before the deadline could ultimately be expelled.

Mahmoud Khalil, a graduate student and the lead negotiator on behalf of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, the student coalition that organized the encampment, toldThe New York Times that the deadline is "just another intimidation tactic from the university."

"The university is dealing with this matter as a disciplinary issue, not as a movement to divest from war," Khalil added.

Responding to the notice on social media, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine on Monday urged students not to "sign anything with administration" and called on supporters to show up to protect the encampment at noon.

The student group—which held a 2:30 pm press conference—said that "Columbia's threat to mass suspend, evict, and possibly expel students with only a few hours' notice violates university rules."

While the organization said faculty who objected to Columbia's plans were informed that the administration had declared a "state of emergency," the university said in a media advisory that "the rumor... is a fabrication and totally false."

The group said: "We have informed the university that we are prepared to escalate our direct actions if they do not adopt basic standards of conduct for negotiations... We must take action to end the true 'state of emergency,' Columbia's complicity in genocide."

The notice came after a statement from Shafik—emailed to students across campus Monday morning—acknowledging the breakdown in talks with student organizers, noting Columbia's offers, declaring that "the encampment has created an unwelcoming environment for many of our Jewish students and faculty," and reaffirming that "the university will not divest from Israel."

It also followed Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) leading a Monday letter to the board of trustees expressing disappointment that "Columbia University has not yet disbanded the unauthorized and impermissible encampment of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish activists on campus," and arguing that "the time for negotiation is over; the time for action is now."

Columbia's encampment has drawn national media attention and visits from supportive and unsupportive members of Congress.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)—whose daughter Isra Hirsi was suspended from Columbia University's Barnard College earlier this month—said last week that "contrary to right-wing attacks, these students are joyfully protesting for peace and an end to the genocide taking place in Gaza. I'm in awe of their bravery and courage."

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