Columbia leadership rebuked by faculty panel for police crackdown on protesters

By Julia Harte and Kia Johnson

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Columbia University's embattled president came under renewed pressure on Friday as a campus oversight panel sharply criticized her administration for clamping down on a pro-Palestinian protest at the Ivy League school.

President Nemat Minouche Shafik has faced an outcry from many students, faculty and outside observers for summoning New York police to dismantle a tent encampment set up on campus by protesters against Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

After a two-hour meeting on Friday, the Columbia University Senate approved a resolution that Shafik's administration had undermined academic freedom and disregarded the privacy and due process rights of students and faculty members by calling in the police and shutting down the protest.

"The decision... has raised serious concerns about the administration's respect for shared governance and transparency in the university decision-making process," it said.

The senate, composed mostly of faculty members and other staff plus a few students, did not name Shafik in its resolution and avoided the harsher language of a censure.

The resolution established a task force it said would monitor the "corrective actions" the senate asked the administration to take on dealing with protests.

There was no immediate response to the resolution from Shafik, who is a member of the senate but did not attend Friday's meeting. Columbia spokesperson Ben Chang said the administration shared the same goal as the senate - to restore calm to the campus - and was committed to "an ongoing dialogue."

Police arrested more than 100 people on Columbia's campus last week and removed the tents from the main lawn of the school's Manhattan campus, but the protesters quickly returned and set up tents again, narrowing Columbia's options on dismantling the encampment.

Since then, hundreds of protesters have been arrested at schools from California to Boston as students set up camps similar to the one at Columbia, demanding that their schools divest from companies involved with Israel's military.

On Friday at least 40 protesters were arrested in Denver at the Auraria Campus, an institution shared by the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver and the Community College of Denver, according to a press release from the school.

Like-minded protests against Israel's actions have spread overseas. At the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, pro-Israeli protesters came to challenge pro-Palestinian students occupying the building on Friday. Police kept the two sides apart.

A few blocks from the White House, about 200 protesters at George Washington University remained gathered for a second day on Friday. The school said students did not follow directions to leave, and several were suspended and temporarily barred from campus.

The White House has defended free speech on campus, but Democratic President Joe Biden denounced "antisemitic protests" this week and stressed that campuses must be safe.

Some Republicans in Congress have accused Shafik and other university administrators of being too soft on protesters and allowing Jewish students to be harassed on their campuses.


The president of the University of Texas at Austin, Jay Hartzell, faced a similar backlash from faculty on Friday, two days after he joined with Republican Governor Greg Abbott in calling in police to break up a pro-Palestinian protest.

Dozens of protesters were taken into custody, but charges were dropped because authorities lacked probable cause - or reasonable grounds - for making the arrests, the Travis County Attorney's office said.

Nearly 200 university faculty members signed a letter expressing no confidence in Hartzell because he "needlessly put students, staff and faculty in danger" when police in riot gear and on horseback moved against the protesters.

Hartzell said he made the decision because protest organizers aimed to "severely disrupt" the campus for a long period.

The clash in Texas was one of many this week between demonstrators and police summoned by university leaders, who say the protests jeopardize the safety of students and at times, subject Jewish students to antisemitism and harassment.

Civil rights groups have condemned the arrests and urged authorities to respect free speech rights.

But one member of the encampment at Columbia, Khymani James, on Friday apologized for saying in a January social media video that "Zionists don't deserve to live."

"What I said was wrong," James said in a statement. "Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification." A university spokesman said James had been banned from campus and faced disciplinary action.

Three protesters were arrested for criminal trespass at an encampment at Arizona State University, the university said.

(Reporting by Julia Harte in New York, Kia Johnson and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Andrew Hay in New Mexico, Jonathan Allen in New York and Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Frank McGurty, Bill Berkrot and William Mallard)