As Campus Is Roiled by Protests, Arrests and Threats, Columbia Makes All Classes Remote

Columbia said all classes were going remote on April 22 following a tumultuous five day period in which more than 100 peaceful pro-Palestinian protestors were arrested April 18 after they set up an encampment on the south lawn of the Ivy League institution. Jewish students meanwhile said they were subject to on-campus threats and a prominent rabbi urged them to stay home. A new encampment took the place of the initial one.

| 24 Apr 2024 | 02:25

Columbia University moved to make all classes remote on April 22 after the Ivy League campus was roiled by clashes tied to on-campus conflicts over the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

The simmering protests boiled over on April 18 when 113 pro-Palestinian protestors who had set up a tent city on campus were arrested when university President Nemat “Minouche” Safik authorized the NYPD to enter the campus and begin making arrests of those who had set up the encampment.

Members of “Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine” and “Columbia Jewish Voices for Peace” had begun an encampment on the university’s South Lawn at around 4 a.m. on April 17 and protested peacefully for the following day.

While the protests in the encampment were said to be peaceful, Rabbi Elie Buechler, a rabbi at the university, on April 21 said Jewish students on campus has been threatened and felt intimidated by pro-Palestinian students in recent weeks. As tension increased, he urged Jewish students to stay home due to “extreme antisemitism and virulent anti-Israel protests.” The Jewish holiday of Passover began on the evening of April 22, raising more concern among Jewish students. Shai Davidai, a professor at Columbia, was reportedly denied access to the university after attempting to organize a Pro-Israel rally on April 22. His identification card was deactivated as he tried to lead the group through the gates and onto campus.

One source involved with the occupation told the West Side Spirit “There are a lot of goals” [of the protestors]. He said the biggest ongoing issue for protestors at the moment is urging the university to divest funds from “companies and institutions that profit from Israel apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine.”

Some students involved in the protest were suspended.

“Due to the school’s response,” he said, “there are new demands including that suspensions of students be revoked and for various other protections for student protestors.”

In an email to the entire student body, President Safik detailed her reasoning for involving the police, “The individuals who established the encampment violated a long list of rules and policies. Through direct conversations and in writing, the university provided multiple notices of these violations, including a written warning at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday notifying students who remained in the encampment as of 9:00 p.m. that they would face suspension pending investigation. We also tried through a number of channels to engage with their concerns and offered to continue discussions if they agreed to disperse.”

“I am extremely disappointed with how the university has handled this situation,” the pro-Palestinian source told the Spirit. “Columbia’s president testified before Congress that she wanted a safe and welcoming learning environment for everyone...Bringing violent cops onto our campus for the purpose of arresting peaceful students is the opposite of that,” the source told the Spirit. “I do not feel safe on this campus,” he said.

The NYPD said the protestors that were rounded up went peacefully and the vast majority were issued desk appearance tickets.

Political activist, philosopher, and theologian Cornel West made an appearance at the university and joined in the encampment on the South Lawn. Following the protest, West defended the occupants, stating that they were “in no way a clear and present danger,” thus they should have been able to protest.

Governor Kathy Hochul addressed the turmoil at Columbia, stating that “every student deserves to feel safe” and that her “number one responsibility (as governor) is to keep people safe.” While promoting safety, Hochul also noted the importance of preserving that ability to peacefully assemble. “I was once a student protestor... I’m calling on everyone–people need to find their humanity. Have the conversations, talk to each other, understand different points of view because that’s what college students should be doing.”

Despite Governor Hochul’s words, rising tension seems to characterize the sentiment at Columbia in recent days. “Everything is so tense,” said Columbia student Lucy Henkel.

The protest and claims of anti-Semitism drew the attention of NYS Attorney General Letitia James. “The events that have occurred at Columbia University have been deeply concerning and painful for many,” she said in a statement released Monday. “The right to protest peacefully is the bedrock of our nation’s democracy. However, when peaceful protest devolves into hate and anti-Semitic violence, the line is crossed and will not be tolerated. My office is monitoring the situation closely.”