Columbia Moves All Classes Online Amid Campus Chaos

Pro-Palestinian students at Columbia (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
April 22, 2024

Columbia University moved all Monday classes online as the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover begins amid widespread anti-Semitic protests on campus.

"To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday," Columbia president Minouche Shafik said in a Monday statement to the campus community.

"Over the past days, there have been too many examples of intimidating and harassing behavior on our campus," Shafik said of the chaotic anti-Israel protests, sometimes featuring violence and anti-Semitic rhetoric, that have engulfed the university since Wednesday. "Antisemitic language, like any other language that is used to hurt and frighten people, is unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken."

The chaos unfolded Wednesday morning when protesters established an encampment on Columbia’s main lawn, with students shouting anti-Semitic slogans and demanding the university divest from Israel. After the student protesters ignored repeated orders to leave, New York City police on Thursday arrested some protesters, including Isra Hirsi, the daughter of "Squad" member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.).

The demonstrations continued despite police interventions, resulting in the arrest of more than 100 Columbia students by the weekend. Columbia said it has suspended all of the arrested students.

FBI director Christopher Wray on Wednesday said his agency would be on alert for anti-Semitic hate crimes ahead of Passover, a Jewish holiday that runs this year from April 22 to April 30.

"Today, we at the bureau remain particularly concerned that lone actors could target large gatherings, high-profile events, or symbolic or religious locations for violence—particularly a concern, of course, as we look to the start of Passover on Monday evening," Wray said at an event hosted by Jewish security organization Secure Community Network.

Shafik said in her Monday statement that university administrators will continue to communicate with the protesters to "enable us to peacefully complete the term and return to respectful engagement with each other."

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.) has called for Shafik to step down immediately. "It is crystal clear that Columbia University—previously a beacon of academic excellence founded by Alexander Hamilton—needs new leadership," Stefanik said in a Sunday statement.