Columbia Encampment Lives On After Another Deadline From President Shafik Passes

Unsanctioned student protesters ignore Shafik's plea to 'voluntarily disperse'

Pro-Palestinian Columbia protesters (Reuters/David Dee Delgado)
April 29, 2024

MANHATTAN—Columbia University president Minouche Shafik again set a deadline for unsanctioned student protesters to vacate their "Gaza Solidarity" encampment. Hours after that deadline passed, the encampment still stands.

Shafik sent students a Monday morning letter asking them to "voluntarily disperse" from the encampment by 2 p.m. or face suspension. The students refused, voting unanimously to remain. Some wrote messages on the letters such as "COLUMBIA WILL BURN" and "I AINT READING ALL THAT FREE PALESTINE." Others pledged to "DEFEND THE CAMP" and "escalate" their demonstrations.

As the deadline approached, protesters gathered outside the campus gates, chanting, "Israel will fall." Columbia faculty members rushed to the encampment, eventually forming a wall around its entrance to help the student protesters. At 2:30 p.m., student leaders held a defiant press conference, saying they will "not be moved unless by force."

"It's past two," one student said. "We do not abide by university pressure." Protesters also chanted, "If we don't get no justice, then they will get no peace," "We don't want no two state, we want all of it," and "From the river to the sea, Palestine is all you'll see."

It's unclear how Shafik plans to rectify the situation. In a Friday statement, she said bringing New York City police officers to campus "at this time would be counterproductive." When the Washington Free Beacon asked Columbia head of communications Ben Chang whether Shafik would consider authorizing cops on campus today, he said he had "nothing further to add" beyond that Friday statement. During a Monday afternoon press call, Chang said the school has "begun suspending students" and that the disciplinary process "continues to play out." Suspended students are participating in the protest and have helped lead it.

This is far from the first time the student protesters ignored a deadline from Shafik to clear the encampment.

Nearly one week ago, on April 23, Shafik set a midnight deadline for negotiations with student protest leaders. Arrests appeared imminent, with protesters pledging to "defend the encampment" and "rally" for their "comrades."

Instead, Shafik pushed her deadline back twice—first to 8 a.m., then to 48 hours—to continue negotiations.

On Monday morning, however, Shafik announced that those negotiations brought no agreement and gave students until 2 p.m. to "voluntarily disperse." Those who did so and signed a form identifying their role in the encampment would avoid suspension and "be eligible to complete the semester in good standing" so long as they abide by school rules going forward. Those who stayed would "be suspended pending further investigation."

The student protesters stayed.

Columbia made several offers to student protesters during the negotiation process, including a "review" of its Tel Aviv Dual Degree program and a scholarship fund for Gazans, according to the student group behind the encampment. Shafik in her Monday statement called those ideas "important" and said she plans "to explore pursuing them in the future."

The encampment has plagued Columbia for nearly two weeks after students constructed it during Shafik's congressional testimony on the school's response to campus anti-Semitism. Participants have routinely called for destruction of the Jewish state and for violence against Jews.

One keffiyeh-clad student protester was photographed holding a sign pointing at a group of Jewish students with the caption "Al-Qasam's [sic] Next Targets," a reference to the Hamas military wing that carried out the terror attacks in Israel on Oct. 7. Another live-streamed a speech that called for "escalation" and glorified the attacks.

Student protest leader Khymani James, meanwhile, was banned from campus after a resurfaced video showed him saying Zionists "don't deserve to live." James also likened Zionists to white supremacists and Nazis, saying, "These are all the same people."

"The existence of them and the projects they have built, i.e. Israel, it's all antithetical to peace," he said in a video he posted to Instagram. "And so, yes, I feel very comfortable, very comfortable, calling for those people to die."

"Be grateful that I'm not just going out and murdering Zionists," he said.

James was a regular presence in the campus before he was banned from campus—at one point, he mobilized students to form a "human chain" meant to remove "Zionists" who he said entered the encampment. James's call to kill Zionists came "during and after a disciplinary hearing with Columbia administrators that he recorded and then posted on Instagram," according to the New York Times. Columbia only barred James from campus after the video went viral online.

During a Sunday CNN appearance, Columbia professor Bruce Robbins said student protesters at the school have not called for the "destruction of civilian lives."