NEW YORK: Protesters and police clashed Monday at the University of Texas in a confrontation that resulted in dozens of arrests, and Columbia University began issuing suspensions as colleges around the US begged pro-Palestinian demonstrators to clear out tent encampments as commencement ceremonies approach.
From coast to coast, demonstrators are sparring over the Israel-Hamas war and its mounting death toll, and the number of arrests at campuses nationwide is approaching 1,000 as the final days of class wrap up. The outcry is forcing colleges to reckon with their financial ties to Israel, as well as their support for free speech.
The protests have even spread to Europe, with French police removing dozens of students from the Sorbonne university after pro-Palestinian protesters occupied the main courtyard. In Canada, student protest camps have popped up at the University of Ottawa, McGill University in Montreal and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, The Canadian Press reported.
At the University of Texas at Austin, an attorney said at least 40 demonstrators had been arrested Monday, some of them by officers in riot gear who encircled about 100 sitting protesters, dragging or carrying them out one by one amid screams. Another group of demonstrators trapped police and a van full of arrestees between buildings, creating a mass of bodies pushing and shoving and prompting the officers to use pepper spray and flash-bang devices to clear the crowd.
The confrontation was an escalation on the 50,000-student campus in the state’s capital. On social media, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott reposted video of state troopers arriving, saying “No encampments will be allowed.” Just last week, hundreds of police pushed into protesters at the university, arresting more than 50 people.
The Texas protest and others grew out of Columbia’s early demonstrations that have continued. On Monday, student activists at Columbia defied a 2 p.m. deadline to leave an encampment of around 120 tents on the school’s Manhattan campus. Instead, hundreds of protesters marched around the quad, clapping, chanting and weaving around piles of temporary flooring and green carpeting meant for graduation ceremonies that are supposed to begin next week.
A handful of counter-demonstrators waved Israeli flags, and one held a sign reading, “Where are the anti-Hamas chants?”
The university didn’t call police to roust the demonstrators. But three hours after the deadline passed, school spokesperson Ben Chang said Columbia had begun suspending students. He didn’t indicate how many students were involved. He also didn’t say how the suspensions would be carried out or whether suspended students would be ejected from the campus.
Chang said that while the university appreciated the free speech rights of students, the encampment was a “noisy distraction” that was interfering with teaching and preparation for for final exams. The protests also made some Jewish students deeply uncomfortable, he said.
Protest organizers said they were not aware of any suspensions as of Monday evening.
The notice sent to protesters earlier Monday said if they left by the deadline and signed a form committing to abide by university policies through June 2025, they could finish the semester in good standing. If not, the letter said, they would be suspended, pending further investigation.
College classes are wrapping up for the semester, and campuses are preparing for graduation ceremonies, giving schools an extra incentive to clear encampments. The University of Southern California canceled its main graduation ceremony.
But students dug in their heels at other high-profile universities, with standoffs continuing at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and others.
Protesters at Yale set up a new camp with dozens of tents Sunday, nearly a week after police arrested nearly 50 and cleared a similar one nearby. They were notified by a Yale official that they could face discipline, including suspension, and possible arrest if they continued.
Yale said in a statement Monday that while it supports peaceful protests and freedom of speech, it does not tolerate policy violations such as the encampment. School officials said that the protest is near residential colleges where many students are studying for final exams, and that permission must be granted for groups to hold events and put up structures on campus.
In a rare case, Northwestern University said it reached an agreement with students and faculty who represent the majority of protesters on its campus near Chicago. It allows peaceful demonstrations through the June 1 end of spring classes, requires removal of all tents except one for aid, and restricts the demonstration area to allow only students, faculty and staff unless the university approves otherwise.
At Brown University in Rhode Island, school President Christina H. Paxton offered protest leaders the chance to meet with officials to discuss their arguments for divestment from Israel-linked companies in exchange for ending an encampment.
In the letter to student protesters at Columbia, school officials noted that exams are beginning and graduation is upcoming.
“We urge you to remove the encampment so that we do not deprive your fellow students, their families and friends of this momentous occasion,” the letter said.
The demonstrations have led Columbia to hold remote classes. The school said in an email to students that bringing back police “at this time” would be counterproductive. The university said it will offer an alternative venue for the protests after exams and graduation.
Columbia’s handling of the protests has prompted federal complaints.
A class-action lawsuit on behalf of Jewish students alleges a breach of contract by Columbia, claiming the university failed to maintain a safe learning environment, despite policies and promises. It also challenges the move away from in-person classes and seeks quick court action requiring Columbia to provide security for the students.
Meanwhile, a legal group representing pro-Palestinian students is urging the US Department of Education’s civil rights office to investigate Columbia’s compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for how they have been treated.
A university spokesperson declined to comment on the complaints.
The plight of students who have been arrested has become a central part of protests, with the students and a growing number of faculty demanding amnesty for protesters. At issue is whether the suspensions and legal records will follow students through their adult lives.
Demonstrators on other campuses, meanwhile, said they would stand firm. Jacob Ginn, a second-year University of North Carolina sociology graduate student, said he had been protesting at the encampment for four days, including negotiations with administrators Friday.
“We are prepared for everything and we will remain here until the university meets our demands and we will remain steadfast and strong in the face of any brutality and repression that they try to attack us with,” Ginn said in reference to a potential police sweep of the encampment.

 

 

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