Columbia University classes go remote as U.S. campuses divided over Israel-Hamas conflict

The university's president Minouche Shafik urged relevant parties to "sit down and talk and argue and find ways to compromise on solutions" and announced that all classes would go virtual.

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A student activist chants slogans inside a gate of Columbia University's Morningside Heights campus in New York City, the United States, April 22, 2024. (Xinhua/Liu Yanan)

All classes at Columbia University went virtual starting on Monday as divisive demonstrations and debates around the Israel-Hamas conflict heated up on campus recently.

The university’s president Minouche Shafik urged relevant parties to “sit down and talk and argue and find ways to compromise on solutions” and announced that all classes would go virtual.

Shafik sent a letter to the New York Police Department (NYPD) on April 18 requesting that the police help remove individuals who had occupied the South Lawn of the university’s Morningside Heights campus a day earlier.

The students with “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” opposed Israeli military action in Gaza and demanded the university divest from companies that “profit from Israeli apartheid.”

“The continued encampment raises safety concerns for the individuals involved and the entire community,” said Shafik in the letter.

She added that the encampment and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to Columbia University’s substantial functioning.

The NYPD arrested more than 100 protesters from the campus of the university in the afternoon on April 18.

Shafik denounced antisemitic behavior by students and professors at the university and pledged consequences for those actions at the hearings by the House of Representatives on antisemitism on April 17.

The university also suspended students who participated in unauthorized protests and terminated a professor who supported the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

In a statement on Saturday, the Barnard and Columbia chapters of the American Association of University Professors condemned the suspension of students engaged in peaceful protest and their arrest by the NYPD.

“During the coming days, a working group of deans, university administrators and faculty members will try to bring this crisis to a resolution,” said Shafik.

Security guards at Columbia University’s Morningside Heights campus on Monday required ID issued by the university before granting access to the campus.

Around ten students from the university approached by Xinhua on Monday refused to comment on the encampment.

On Monday, the NYPD had a strong presence around the campus, while more than 100 outside protesters and agitators within the campus rallied at a gate by Columbia University Bookstore on Broadway.

“What I see is nothing but division. I don’t know what the university is trying to do to facilitate people coming together,” said an alumnus of Columbia University who identified himself as Max.

Max said the administration could do more to bring people together and help them understand each other.

“The authorities at this university have lost control…It’s become a one-sided conversation. There is no dialogue,” said Ross, who is Jewish and living in New York City.

The students should have meetings, discussions and debates, but not take over the campus, said Ross, who declined to give his full name.

“We saw this as an unacceptable escalation of repression,” said Carl Dix, a representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, of the police who were called in on the students. “And we had to stand with the students against that.”

“Opposing genocidal attacks is right. It’s correct, and it’s not anti-semitism. In fact, the people in the ruling class who run all this stuff about the Jewish conspiracy. They’re the ones who are anti-Semitic, not these students here,” said Dix.

According to media reports, students from Yale University, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and the University of North Carolina also staged encampments in solidarity with their peers at Columbia University.

Over 40 students from Yale University, who occupied Beinecke Plaza at the center of campus starting Friday night, were arrested on Monday, according to the local police department.

New York University ordered scores of student protesters to disperse on Monday afternoon after “a breach in the barriers set up at Gould Plaza.”

Xinhua News Agency

Founded in 1931, Xinhua News Agency is one of the largest news organizations in the world, with over 10,000 employees across the globe. As the main source of news and information for China, Xinhua plays a key role in shaping the country's media landscape and communicating its perspectives to the world. The agency produces a wide range of content, including text news articles, photos, videos, and social media posts, in both Chinese and English, and its reports are widely used by media organizations around the world. Xinhua also operates several international bureaus, including in key capitals like Washington, D.C., Moscow, and London, to provide in-depth coverage of global events.

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