Columbia University Suspends Students Protesting Israel-Gaza War

Columbia University threatens suspension of pro-Palestinian protesters, sparking debate over academic freedom and free speech on college campuses.

Aqsa Younas Rana
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Columbia University Suspends Students Protesting Israel-Gaza War

Columbia University Suspends Students Protesting Israel-Gaza War

Columbia University has begun suspending students who refused to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus after the deadline to disperse passed on Monday. The university told students they must vacate the "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" by 2 PM ET and sign a document pledging to follow university rules, or face suspension. Those who did not comply were suspended by around 5:30 PM and deemed ineligible to complete the semester and graduate.

The protests have continued at Columbia and other college campuses across the country for over a week, with hundreds of students and faculty members being arrested. The demonstrators are calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and a halt in U.S. military aid to Israel. A coalition of Democratic House members urged Columbia to end the encampment, stating that it has prevented many students from safely attending class and leaving their dorm rooms. However, other Democrats have defended the demonstrations and accused the school of violating the protestors' rights.

Columbia's president, Minouche Shafik, stated that the protest has created an unwelcoming environment for Jewish students and faculty, and has become a distraction for students. The university offered to create an expedited timeline for reviewing new proposals from students, as well as make investments in health and education in Gaza. However, the talks resulted in a stalemate, and the university issued notices to protesters asking them to vacate the encampment or face suspension.

UN expert Mary Lawlor called the university's actions a "violation" of the students' peaceful assembly rights. "The disciplinary action against the protesting students is a clear violation of their right to peaceful assembly," stated Lawlor, the UN independent special rapporteur for human rights defenders.

Similar protests have occurred at other U.S. universities. At the University of Texas at Austin, hundreds of state troopers descended on a pro-Palestinian student protest, arresting several demonstrators. At Virginia Tech, officials cited an "increasing potential to become unsafe" as the reason for police action to disband a protest.

Why this matters: The protests at Columbia and other universities have sparked intense debates over academic freedom, free speech, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The threat of disciplinary action against student protesters raises questions about the right to peaceful assembly on college campuses.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that while President Biden stands against any rhetoric, violence, threats or hate speech, the decision to use police force is up to university leadership. The Columbia University Apartheid Divest group denounced the university's attempts to stifle the student movement, stating that protesters will not be moved except by force. As of Monday evening, the encampment remained in place with faculty members forming a wall in front of it as hundreds of students surrounded the area.

Key Takeaways

  • Columbia Univ. suspends students for refusing to leave pro-Palestinian encampment.
  • Protests continue at colleges, with hundreds of students/faculty arrested nationwide.
  • Columbia president says protests create unwelcoming environment for Jewish community.
  • UN expert calls university's actions a "violation" of students' peaceful assembly rights.
  • Protests spark debates over academic freedom, free speech, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.