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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Columbia extends deadline to clear campus encampment ahead of House speaker’s visit

    Columbia University early Wednesday extended by 48 hours a deadline for talks on dismantling pro-Palestinian protesters’ encampments on the campus grounds, after a midnight deadline issued the night before raised the prospect of further turmoil at the Ivy League institution.

    The university has been in talks with student organizers behind protests against the Israel-Gaza war — part of a wave of demonstrations at colleges across the country that have led to a spate of arrests — to clear an encampment on the West Lawn of Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus.

    If the discussions are not successful, Columbia President Minouche Shafik warned Tuesday in a statement, Columbia “will have to consider alternative options for clearing the West Lawn and restoring calm to campus.”

    Mahmoud Khalil, a Columbia student who is part of the negotiations with the administration, said he was not aware of any police presence on the campus after the initial deadline at midnight Tuesday expired.

    In a statement provided to The Washington Post, Columbia said it was extending the deadline by 48 hours in light of “important progress” that had been made with the organizers.

    The student protesters agreed to dismantle and remove a “significant number” of tents; committed to ensuring that only Columbia students will participate in the demonstrations; and have taken steps to ensure no discriminatory or harassing language is used at the encampment, according to the statement.

    Shortly after midnight, Columbia student negotiators had released a statement alleging that the university administration had threatened to call the National Guard and the New York police if its demands were not met. The university did not comment on the allegations.

    The protests continue to garner attention nationally as incidents spread across the country.

    On Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., will visit the Columbia campus and call on Shafik to resign, he said in an interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show Wednesday morning. He added that he would also meet with Jewish students and a rabbi on campus.

    New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said Tuesday that she had no plans to call in the National Guard in response to the campus protesters, according to local media. Her office did not immediately respond to queries about whether Columbia had made such a request.

    More than 100 people protesting the war in Gaza were arrested and charged with trespassing at Columbia last week after Shafik summoned police to the campus, in what she described as “an extraordinary step” to keep the campus safe. The move to call the police and suspend protesting students was criticized by student leaders and human rights groups.

    Tensions over the war in Gaza, now in its seventh month, have swept across American campuses as universities struggle to balance the right to protest and freedom of speech with campus rules and safety. Pro-Palestinian protests at colleges have demanded that their universities divest from corporations doing business with Israel or profiting off the war in Gaza. At Columbia, protesters have also asked the university to end a dual-degree program with Tel Aviv University.

    The arrests and suspensions at Columbia spurred similar protests at institutions such as New York University, Yale and the University of California at Berkeley.

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