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Columbia University cancels commencement amid pro-Palestinian protests

The university will have 31 smaller gatherings.
Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Posted at 7:13 AM, May 06, 2024

As Columbia University has spent the last month encountering numerous pro-Palestinian protests, the New York university announced Monday that it has canceled its May 15 commencement. Instead, leaders of the university said they would put emphasis on the university's smaller, school-based ceremonies.

The university will have 31 of these smaller gatherings. Officials also said they're considering a "festive event" on May 15 that will include the entire campus community in lieu of commencement.

"Our students emphasized that these smaller-scale, school-based celebrations are most meaningful to them and their families. They are eager to cross the stage to applause and family pride and hear from their school’s invited guest speakers," the university said in a statement. "As a result, we will focus our resources on those school ceremonies and on keeping them safe, respectful, and running smoothly. A great deal of effort is already underway to reach that goal, and we understand the Deans and school teams are looking forward to working with their students to incorporate the most creative and meaningful ideas to celebrate this extraordinary moment."

Last week, officers entered an encampment on Columbia's campus to clear out demonstrators. Police reported arresting 119 people amid the protests.

Police advance on pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the UCLA campus.

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The university has restricted campus access to students, faculty and other essential workers, and has made classes remote. NYPD has also said it would maintain a presence on campus through May 17.

House Speaker Mike Johnson placed blame on University President Minouche Shafik. Shafik has faced criticism from many sides. Some, like Johnson, have said she has not done enough to rid campus of demonstrators, while others have said she has stifled free speech by having protesters removed.

"President Shafik and Columbia University administrators have displayed a shocking unwillingness to control their campus," Johnson said. "They’ve allowed outside agitators and terrorist-sympathizing students and faculty to rewrite campus rules and spew vile, anti-Jewish aggression. Now, thousands of students who’ve worked hard to achieve their degrees will not get the recognition they deserve."

Columbia senior Suleyman Ahmed told Scripps News last week that even if graduation had been held as scheduled, it would not have been the celebration his family expected.

"I've been asking my family that was planning on coming originally, 'Are you still planning on coming?' There's a lot of uncertainty right?" Ahmed said. "Even if they hold a graduation here with so many cops present, it's not going to feel like the moment of celebration that me and my family would really want it to be."

Columbia's commencement is one of several that have been canceled due to demonstrations. USC also canceled its commencement as the university had previously said its pro-Palestinian valedictorian would not be allowed to speak due to safety concerns.