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May 28, 2024

Columbia Says Student Protesters Agree to More Talks and to Remove Some Tents

Columbia Says Student Protesters Agree to More Talks and to Remove Some Tents



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Progress in talks with protesters led officials to put off a crackdown. But the campus faces a tumultous day, with the U.S. House Speaker scheduled to visit.

Students praying on Tuesday night at an encampment at Columbia University.Credit…Bing Guan for The New York Times

Columbia University awoke Wednesday after it narrowly avoided, for now, another confrontation with students over their sprawling protest encampment. But the university faced a swirl of doubts over the future of its president, Nemat Shafik, and her efforts to calm the campus in Upper Manhattan.

Underscoring the spectrum of pressures on Dr. Shafik, the campus was bracing for a day of studied tumult, with House Speaker Mike Johnson scheduled to visit Jewish students at Columbia and Dr. Shafik expected to confer with the university senate, which could censure her as soon as Friday.

What seemed far less likely to happen, at least on Wednesday, was a renewed effort by the police to force protesters from the campus. Dr. Shafik had warned Tuesday evening of a midnight deadline for the demonstrators to disband, but around 3 a.m. Wednesday, the university said in a statement that student protesters had agreed to remove a significant number of the tents erected on the lawn, ensure non-students would leave, and bar discriminatory or harassing language among the protesters.

“In light of this constructive dialogue, the university will continue conversations for the next 48 hours,” the university said, less than one week after Dr. Shafik’s decision to ask the New York Police Department to clear the protest. That move led to the arrest of more than 100 students and reignited a divisive debate over free speech and the need to protect Jewish students who have felt threatened.

Hours before it announced the continuing talks, the university had said it was prepared to consider “alternative options” for clearing the tent city. The warning had alarmed student organizers, who told protesters to expect a police sweep overnight. Protest leaders instructed demonstrators to wear a red band if they were willing to be arrested and a yellow one if not.

A student group, which was previously suspended by the university, said in a statement that school administrators had threatened to call in the National Guard if protesters did not disperse. A spokeswoman for Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York pointed to her earlier comments that she had no plans to deploy the Guard.

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