Columbia University initiates suspension of students as pro-Palestine protests spark clashes

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NEW YORK: Columbia University has taken action to suspend student protesters who remained at the on-campus encampment past the administration’s 2 pm ET deadline, CNN reported.

According to the New York-based university, these students will face consequences such as ineligibility to complete the semester or graduate, as well as restrictions from university housing and academic facilities.

“Once disciplinary action is initiated, adjudication is handled by several different units within the university based on the nature of the offense”, vice president of Public Affairs, Ben Chang, said during a briefing Monday evening.

The Office of University Life and the university’s senate, representing students and faculty, oversee this process, as reported by CNN. “Decisions made by the Office of University Life can be appealed to the dean of the student’s school”, said Chang, adding, “Decisions made by the senate can be appealed to a panel of deans and, ultimately, the university’s president”.

The decision to remove the encampment was partially motivated by the need to ensure the smooth continuation of the university’s commencement ceremony for its 15,000 graduates, Chang noted.

Earlier, students at Columbia had voted to defy the order to vacate the encampment, which has been a focal point of pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

This action at Columbia comes amid a wave of arrests and tensions at universities across the United States, with demonstrations in support of Palestinians drawing attention and, in some cases, police intervention.

In recent events, additional students were arrested at New York and Yale universities, along with nearly 100 at the University of Southern California, and others at Emory University in Atlanta, and Boston’s Emerson College. At the University of Texas at Austin, police dispersed a similar demonstration using riot gear and horseback. Additionally, 91 individuals, including 54 students, were arrested at Virginia Tech for trespassing after refusing to disperse, the university reported.

While these recent arrests have garnered significant attention, colleges across the US have been employing law enforcement measures, along with academic penalties such as suspensions and, in some cases, expulsion, to manage student protests since Hamas’ October attack on Israel, which resulted in over 1,200 deaths and numerous hostages, according to CNN.

The subsequent Israeli response in Gaza, with a reported death toll of over 34,000 Palestinians according to the health ministry, has intensified deeply entrenched perspectives among students and faculty.

Despite assertions from US students that their methods are peaceful, administrators often view campus protests as disruptive. Some institutions, including Indiana University, George Washington University, and California State Polytechnic University’s Humboldt campus, have used school regulations concerning public spaces to discipline or call for police intervention during demonstrations.

This situation underscores the inherent tension in higher education: balancing the principles of free speech with ensuring student safety, particularly for those of Jewish background who have expressed concerns about rising antisemitism nationally since October 7, occasionally linked with pro-Palestinian campus demonstrations.

According to Zach Greenberg of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), administrators appear to be more swift in imposing consequences on campus demonstrators compared to six months ago. FIRE is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation focused on defending free speech in colleges and universities, CNN reported. (ANI)

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