Columbia University has started suspending student protesters for defying a deadline the school set for them to clear a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, a school spokesperson said Monday. 

In a press call Monday evening, Ben Chang, the vice president for communications at Columbia, said the school had "begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure safety on our campus."

What You Need To Know

  • Columbia University has started suspending student protesters for defying a deadline the school set for them to clear a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, a school spokesperson said Monday

  • Dozens of students remained at the encampment after the deadline passed Monday, with one student organizer saying the group had "unanimously" decided to stay until Columbia divests from companies with ties to Israel

  • Columbia's president on Monday said the university "will not divest from Israel"

"Once disciplinary action is initiated, adjudication is handled by several different units within the university based on the nature of the offense," Chang said, without saying how many students had been suspended. 

Columbia on Monday morning said student protesters who remained at the encampment past 2 p.m. would be suspended "pending further investigation," according to a notice obtained by NY1. 

By 2 p.m. however, dozens of students remained at the encampment on the lawn of the school's Morningside Heights campus. Some Columbia University students held a news conference on the lawn not long after the deadline had passed. 

"The university's negotiations evidence an elementary understanding of the words 'boycott' and 'divest,' which have been at the heart of the student movement and at the heart of our encampment," student organizer and negotiator Sueda Polat said. "The university has conducted itself with obstinacy and arrogance, refusing to be flexible on some of our most basic points." 

Student protesters have called on Columbia to divest from companies with ties to Israel amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, but in a statement released Monday morning, the school's president, Minouche Shafik, said the university would not do so.

Another student negotiator, Mahmoud Khalil, said the group "unanimously took the decision to continue this encampment until Columbia divests."

On Saturday, Shafik released a statement saying the university did not intend to ask the NYPD to clear out protesters again, as it did a day after students set up the encampment

In the notice Columbia issued Monday morning, the university said talks between school officials and student protest leaders had reached “an impasse.”

“The current unauthorized encampment and disruption on Columbia University’s campus is creating an unwelcoming environment for members of our community. External actors have also contributed to this environment, especially around our gates, causing safety concerns — including for our neighbors,” the notice said.

The notice urged demonstrators to “gather your belongings and leave the encampment.” Students were also asked to sign a form committing to follow all university policies through June 30, 2025, or the date of their degree conferral, if they wished to be "eligible to complete the semester in good standing."

“It is important for you to know that the University has already identified many students in the encampment,” the notice said. “If you do not identify yourself upon leaving and sign the form now, you will not be eligible to sign and complete the semester in good standing.”

“The University will offer an alternative venue for demonstrations after the exam period and commencement have concluded,” it added. “If the encampment is not removed, we will need to initiate disciplinary procedures because of a number of violations of university policies.”

With just over two weeks to go until graduation day at Columbia, Shafik has committed to holding a commencement ceremony, despite the encampment presenting logistical challenges to staging the event. 

In her statement Monday morning, Shafik said the university did “not want to deprive thousands of students and their families and friends of a graduation ceremony.”

“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,” Shafik wrote. “We owe it to all of our graduates and their loved ones to honor their achievement.”

“We want to reassure our community who are trying to make plans that we will indeed hold a Commencement,” she added.

Columbia's graduation is traditionally held on the lawns of the school's Morningside Heights campus, where the encampment is set up. This year, commencement ceremonies are scheduled to take place on Wednesday, May 15.

Addressing the negotiations in her statement, Shafik said both the coalition and the university had "put forward robust and thoughtful offers and worked in good faith to reach common ground."

“While the University will not divest from Israel, the University offered to develop an expedited timeline for review of new proposals from the students by the Advisory Committee for Socially Responsible Investing, the body that considers divestment matters,” Shafik wrote. “The University also offered to publish a process for students to access a list of Columbia’s direct investment holdings, and to increase the frequency of updates to that list of holdings.”

“Additionally, the University offered to convene a faculty committee to address academic freedom and to begin a discussion on access and financial barriers to academic programs and global centers,” she added. “The University also offered to make investments in health and education in Gaza, including supporting early childhood development and support for displaced scholars. There are important ideas that emerged from this dialogue, and we plan to explore pursuing them in the future.”

At the student news conference, Polat said coalition organizers had been "engaging in good faith negotiations" until the university "cut them off under threat of suspension."

“Where we asked for amnesty, they gave us more discipline,” Polat said. 

Chang, meanwhile, said the university had maintained a dialogue with organizers for "as long as possible" in an “effort to deescalate.”

“We were hopeful, and we were disappointed when the student protesters could not reach consensus on the issues under discussion,” he said.