Northwestern University's deal with student protesters offers example of successful negotiations

CHICAGO (AP) — For five days, the shouts of student protesters and supporters rang out from Northwestern University’s Deering Meadow as they joined demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war unfolding on college campuses nationwide.

But the meadow on the suburban Chicago campus fell silent hours after student organizers and the school announced an agreement late Monday to curb protest activity in return for the reestablishment of an advisory committee on university investments and other commitments.

By Tuesday, only two unoccupied tents remained, surrounded by abandoned folding chairs, cases of bottled water and other supplies.

By quickly defusing the protests in Evanston and avoiding the longer standoffs that happened on other campuses, the agreement at Northwestern offered an example of successful negotiations between anti-war demonstrators and administrators. Brown University announced a similar deal on Tuesday, while administrators at Johns Hopkins University focused talks on limiting student protests to daytime hours.

Still, the arrangement drew dissent from both sides.

Some who are protesting the war in Gaza condemned the Northwestern agreement as a failure to stick to the original demands of student organizers. Some supporters of Israel said the deal represented “cowardly” capitulation to protesters.

The deal lets protests continue through June 1 but bars all tents except one for aid supplies. The pact also prevents people without ties to Northwestern from participating and requires school permission to use loudspeakers or similar devices, according to copies made public by the school and the student organizers.

University administrations across the country have used a variety of strategies in response to the protests. In some places, police have arrested dozens of people. Elsewhere campus leaders have sought to negotiate over protest strategies while allowing them to continue.

Northwestern said the terms include penalties for students who fail to comply, including suspension.

“This agreement represents a sustainable and de-escalated path forward, and enhances the safety of all members of the Northwestern community while providing space for free expression that complies with University rules and policies,” said a statement from President Michael Schill, Provost Kathleen Hagerty and Vice President for Student Affairs Susan Davis.

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League Midwest criticized the university, arguing that the deal “succumbed to the demands of a mob” and did little to make Jewish students on campus feel more secure.

The pro-Palestinian tent encampments began sweeping across the country after a crackdown at Columbia University when police arrested more than 100 protesters on April 18. On Tuesday night, Columbia called police back again to clear protesters who had occupied a campus building.

Around the country, protest organizers at U.S. universities say they are building a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war. One of several groups that planned the anti-war protests at Northwestern was Jewish Voice for Peace.

In Instagram posts about the deal, protest organizers said the reestablishment of the advisory committee is a first step toward divestment — an original demand that the school stop investing in all companies profiting from the war.

University representatives did not reply to messages seeking more information on the advisory committee's role or the history of a similar body at Northwestern. The agreement said the committee would include students, faculty and staff.

The protest organizers also noted Northwestern's commitment to build a house for Muslim student activities and to raise money for scholarships going to Palestinian undergraduates.

But the organizers seemed to anticipate disappointment. They said they view the deal as just a beginning and that they will continue to pressure administrators.

“We have seen incredible momentum grow in support of our movement in these past few days and will not let it go to waste,” a post on the NU Divestment Coalition's Instagram account read. “We consider this to be a prime moment to take stock, recharge, plan, and build power. But we have much work ahead of us and we will not stop now.”

Eden Melles, a graduate student among the Northwestern protest organizers, said Tuesday that reestablishing the advisory committee is “huge," but she also understands criticism of the agreement.

“I know that a lot of students and people, community members, are disappointed in this agreement,” Melles said. “But I just want to say that there’s things in this agreement that I think a lot of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim students have been fighting for for a long time. But this agreement by no means, you know, suggests that this movement is dying or that we’re stopping.”

She said organizers on each campus have to make their own decisions when negotiating with administrators, not follow an exact model created by another school.

Brown University on Tuesday became the second school to announce a deal aiming to end student protests.

Administrators and student organizers of the protest on the Providence, Rhode Island, campus said President Christina Paxson had committed to an October vote by the school's governing board on the students' divestment proposal. Protest organizers removed their tents Tuesday.

In Baltimore, leaders of Johns Hopkins University announced Tuesday that they had reached an agreement with student protesters who started setting up an encampment Monday evening. After several hours of discussion, they said, students agreed to clear the encampment and resume protesting only during daytime hours.

“Our conversations were frank and constructive,” university President Ron Daniels and Provost Ray Jayawardhana wrote in a message to the school community. “We are immensely relieved at this peaceful and productive resolution.”

But protesters with the group Hopkins Justice Collective released statements saying their demonstration continued through the night and wouldn't end “until demands are met.”

“We are not letting Johns Hopkins shut down our encampment,” they wrote in a social media post. “We are still here.”


Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder and reporter Lea Skene in Baltimore contributed.