Columbia protesters say they're at an impasse with administrators and will continue anti-war camp

Columbia University students who inspired pro-Palestinian 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. The development puts more pressure on university officials to find a resolution ahead of planned graduation ceremonies next month — a problem that campuses from California to Massachusetts are facing.

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis worsens, protesters at universities across the country are demanding 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.

The clock is ticking as May commencement ceremonies near, putting added pressure on schools to clear demonstrations. At Columbia, protesters defiantly erected a tent encampment where many are set to graduate in front of families in just a few weeks.

Student negotiators representing the Columbia encampment said that after meetings Thursday and Friday, the university hadn’t met their primary demand for divestment, although they had made 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 earlier said that negotiations were showing progress, although a heavy police and security presence remained around the campus.

“We have our demands; they have theirs,” said Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Columbia University, adding that if the talks fail the university will have to consider other options.

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.

A report by the university senate’s executive committee, which represents faculty, found Shafik and her administration had “taken many actions and decisions that have harmed Columbia University.” Those included calling in police and allowing students to 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 at Columbia who is part of a faculty team protecting the encampment.

Also Friday, one of the Columbia student protesters walked back comments he’d made in an online video in January that recently received new attention. Khymani James said in the video that “Zionists don’t deserve to live” and people should be grateful he wasn’t killing them.

In a statement, he said he regretted his earlier comments. “What I said was wrong,” he said. “Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification.” Protest organizers said the comments didn’t reflect their values. They declined to describe James’ level of involvement with the protest.

Police had clashed with protesters Thursday at Indiana University, Bloomington, were 34 were arrested; Ohio State University, where about 36 were arrested; and at the University of Connecticut, were one person was arrested.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, has been negotiating with students who have been barricaded inside a campus building since Monday, rebuffing an attempt by the police to clear them out. The campus remains shut down at least through the weekend.

On the other end of the state, the University of Southern California canceled the school’s May 10 graduation ceremony. The announcement was made 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 commencement 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. The institute’s museum, which is in the building where the demonstrators set up camp, was closed Friday.

Protesters also stayed overnight at the encampment at George Washington University.

The university said in a statement Friday that those who remain are trespassing on private property and officials will pursue disciplinary actions against students involved in the unauthorized demonstrations.

Emory University President Gregory Fenves said in an email Friday that some of the videos of a clash between police and people on the campus “are shocking” and that he is “horrified that members of our community had to experience and witness such interactions.”

Fenves blamed the unrest at the Atlanta campus on “highly organized, outside protesters” who he said arrived in vans, put up tents and overtook the quad.

But in an earlier statement, school officials had said that 20 of the 28 people arrested were members of the university community.

Video circulated widely on social media shows two women who identified themselves as professors being detained, with one of them slammed to the ground by an officer as a second officer pushes her chest and face onto a concrete sidewalk.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the U.S. 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 University and Columbia.

Perry reported from Meredith, New Hampshire. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists in various locations including Aaron Morrison, Stefanie Dazio, Kathy McCormack, Jim Vertuno, Acacia Coronado, Sudhin Thanawala, Jeff Amy, Mike Stewart, Collin Binkley, Carolyn Thompson, Jake Offenhartz and Sophia Tareen.


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