Columbia University president says negotiations with student protesters have fallen apart

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Talks between pro-Palestinian student protesters and Columbia University officials have broken down, according to an update on Monday from the university’s president.

Administrators have negotiated with demonstrators for much of the last week as protests roiled the campus as they demanded that the college divest from Israel. Dozens have been arrested and the institution switched to virtual learning amid the turmoil.

A statement on Monday from Columbia‘s embattled president Nemat Minouche Shafik said that “regretfully, we were not able to come to an agreement”.

The “university will not divest from Israel,” but that it has offered to develop an “expedited timeline” for reviewing new proposals with the Advisory Committee for Socially Responsible Investing”, the letter read.

Ms Shafik urged students who have set up an encampment on the college grounds in upper Manhattan “to voluntarily disperse”.

She also noted that the university is “consulting with a broader group in our community to explore alternative internal options to end this crisis as soon as possible”.

The university warned protesters to clear out by 2pm EST on Monday or they would face suspension.

The school’s president also implored the protesters to consider their classmates’ upcoming commencement ceremonies, noting that many students graduating this year did not get to celebrate their high school graduations due to the pandemic.

“We also do not want to deprive thousands of students and their families and friends of a graduation celebration,” Ms Shafik wrote. “Please recall that many in this graduating class did not get a celebration when graduating from high school because of the pandemic, and many of them are the first in their families to earn a university degree.”

The university initially gave protesters a midnight deadline on 22 April to reach an agreement with the administration or be removed.

Students leading the Gaza protest have also asked the school to grant amnesty to students who have been disciplined as a result of the protest. That demand was not addressed in Ms Shafik’s letter.

Ms Shafik has been the subject of near-universal criticism. Protesters and faculty have chastised her for calling the police to disperse the encampment on 18 April — when ended with the arrests of more than 100 protesters — as well as for her overall handling of the protest.

Those who oppose the Gaza protesters have also lashed out as Ms Shafik, including House Speaker Mike Johnson. The Republican leader visited Columbia’s campus last week to berate the protesters and to call for Ms Shafik to resign if she would not immediately quash the demonstrations.

“I am here today joining my colleagues and calling on President Shafik to resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” he said during his address on 24 April.

Ms Shafik ignored the call to resign and the university continued to negotiate with the students. A university spokesperson told Retuers that they would not offer further comment on Ms Shafik’s statement.

The Independent has reached out for comment.