Columbia University extends deadline for students to clear pro-Gaza encampment

NEW YORK — Columbia University extended a deadline overnight for student protesters to clear their campus antiwar tent encampment, giving them another 48 hours to pull up stakes and leave, school officials said Wednesday.

The agreement comes just under a week after university officials called the NYPD to break up a prior iteration of the encampment, arresting 100 protesters.

“We are making important progress with representatives of the student encampment on the West lawn,” a university spokesperson said early Wednesday. “In light of this constructive dialogue, the university will continue conversations for the next 48 hours. We will report back on progress.”

Student protesters have committed to dismantling and removing a number of their tents and promised that protesters not affiliated with the school will leave, leaving only enrolled students.

Protesters “have taken steps to make the encampment welcome to all and have prohibited discriminatory or harassing language,” school officials said. They also have committed complying with FDNY safety regulations.

Before the extension, Columbia President Minouche Shafik had given a midnight Tuesday night deadline for demonstrators to shut down the encampment, whose organizers are demanding Columbia divest from Israel and reverse pro-Palestinian student and faculty discipline measures.

Students had been negotiating over the removal of the tents since Friday. Shafik wrote students Tuesday saying: “Those talks are facing a deadline of midnight tonight to reach agreement.”

“I very much hope these discussions are successful,” she added. “If they are not, we will have to consider alternative options for clearing the West Lawn and restoring calm to campus so that students can complete the term and graduate.”

The student negotiating team said late Tuesday it had left the table and refuses to return until the administration commits to not using law enforcement to clear the campus.

“Without assurances of good faith bargaining and protections for nonviolent protestors against police and military violence, we will not be returning to the table,” said Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian graduate student from Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition of more than 100 student groups.

As Shafik readied for a congressional hearing last week on the university’s response to antisemitism, students began occupying a lawn with dozens of tents, calling the area the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.”

University administrators warned students to leave and began notifying them Thursday of suspensions, costing dozens of students their campus housing. By the afternoon, Shafik called in NYPD cops, who wore riot gear to clear the lawn and arrest more than 100 students.

The sweep appeared only to embolden the demonstrators who continued to camp out on the lawn while they chanted, hosted lectures, danced and held screenings over the last week. While some Jewish students participated in the encampment, others reported feeling unsafe on campus and its perimeter, where hundreds of protesters have shown up each day.

Columbia is offering students a hybrid learning option to finish out the school year if they feel threatened. Barnard College, the women’s school affiliated with Columbia, offered to lift suspensions for many students involved in the encampment — if they promise to play by the college’s rules going forward.