'Faculty have lost confidence in Shafik’s ability to lead'

Columbia protesters say talks with university stuck, vow to maintain anti-Israel camp

University’s president rebuked by faculty over handling of crisis; report says protests have spread to 40 US campuses

An anti-Israeli demonstration encampment is seen at the Columbia University, Friday, April 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
An anti-Israeli demonstration encampment is seen at the Columbia University, Friday, April 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

NEW YORK — Columbia University students who inspired anti-Israel demonstrations across the country said Friday that they had reached an impasse with administrators and intended to continue their encampment until their demands were 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.

Amid the grueling Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, protesters at universities all over the US 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.

People gather for the ‘Solidarity Jummah’ outside Columbia University, Friday, April 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

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.

The university had twice set deadlines for students to come to an agreement to disperse the encampment, and twice pushed it off.

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.

George Washington University police officer scan the area as students demonstrate on campus during a pro-Palestinian protest over the Israel-Hamas war on Friday, April 26, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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.

(L-R) President of Columbia University Dr. Minouche Shafik, Dean Emeritus of Columbia Law School David Schizer, Columbia University Board of Trustees Co-Chair Claire Shipman, and Columbia University Board of Trustees Co-Chair David Greenwald testify during a House Committee on Education and the Workforce hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2024. (Drew ANGERER / AFP)

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.

Khymani James, a leader of the anti-Israeli protests at Columbia University, seen in a January 2024 video in which he said ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live’ (Video screenshot)

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

The Guardian reported Friday that protests against Israel had reached 40 campuses throughout the US.

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.

Students and faculty members from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Roosevelt College and Columbia College rally and march to show support for the Palestinian people in Gaza on April 26, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois (SCOTT OLSON / Getty Images via AFP)

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.

Students gather at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment on the campus of Northwestern University on April 25, 2024 in Evanston, Illinois. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

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 US 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.

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