Columbia University urges pro-Palestinian protesters to disperse after failed talks

By Thomson Reuters Apr 29, 2024 | 9:45 AM

By Julia Harte

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Columbia University’s president said on Monday that talks with pro-Palestinian protesters who began camping on the Ivy League campus two weeks ago had failed, and urged them to voluntarily disperse, without saying what would happen if they did not.

President Nemat Minouche Shafik, whose administration was criticized by a campus oversight panel on Friday for its response to the protests, said in a statement that organizers and academic leaders could not reach an agreement that would break a stalemate over the encampment, which the administration says violates university rules.

She said Columbia would not divest assets that support Israel’s military, a key demand of the protesters, but the school has offered to invest in health and education in Gaza, and to improve the transparency of Columbia’s direct investment holdings, according to Shafik’s statement.

Protesters have vowed to keep their encampment until their three demands are met: divestment, transparency in Columbia’s finances and amnesty for students and faculty disciplined for their part in the protests.

Shafik has faced an outcry from many students, faculty and outside observers for summoning New York City police to dismantle the encampment, resulting in more than 100 arrests. Efforts to dismantle the encampment, which students set up again within days of the April 18 police action, have triggered dozens of similar protests at schools from California to Boston.

Last week, two deadlines Columbia imposed on protesters to remove their tents slipped without an agreement, citing progress in the talks. It was unclear what the university might do now that it said the talks had been unsuccessful.

Student organizers were not immediately available for comment on Shafik’s statement, and a university spokesperson said administrators would have no further comment.

Protests at Columbia and other U.S. universities continued at full force over the weekend, with more arrests around the country and skirmishes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at UCLA on Sunday.

(Reporting by Julia Harte; editing by Jonathan Oatis)