Columbia University president hit with no-confidence vote from faculty group over handling of pro-Palestinian campus protests

Pro-Palestinian encampments have been cleared from more US college campuses as school officials have called in law enforcement in recent weeks to quell mounting demonstrations over the institutions’ ties to Israel amid its military action in Gaza. Here are the latest developments:

Arts and sciences faculty at Columbia University have passed a vote of no confidence in the Ivy League school’s president, Minouche Shafik, who has been under intense scrutiny for her handling of campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war and her congressional testimony on the subject.

Sixty-five percent of participants said they had no confidence in Shafik, a spokesperson for the New York university confirmed to CNN on Thursday, adding some 900 of its 4,600 full-time faculty voted.

Among their concerns were that Shafik’s leadership had “not only endangered our students; more broadly, it represents a serious threat to the core values of the university: academic freedom, shared governance, freedom of expression, and the right to peaceful assembly,” the Barnard College and Columbia University Chapters of the American Association of University Professors said in a Thursday news release.

Shafik “continues to consult regularly with members of the community, including faculty, administration, and trustees, as well as with state, city, and community leaders,” Columbia spokesperson Ben Chang said in a statement.

Shafik a day earlier sent a message to graduates – after their university-wide commencement ceremony was canceled following weeks of Gaza war protests – wishing “that the challenges you faced during this difficult era will inspire you and make you stronger.”

“I know that the last few weeks have been very difficult, and I am sorry that we were unable to celebrate your commencement in the traditional manner,” she said in her message. Columbia cited security concerns in canceling the large event, a school official told CNN, and instead is holding smaller ones.

Acknowledging “an extraordinary and tragic set of events” in the Middle East and that “as a great university, we must engage with these issues,” the polarization at Columbia has caused conflict on campus, Shafik said.

“Canceling the traditional commencement ceremony was one of the toughest calls in a year of many tough calls,” Shafik wrote in an op-ed in the Columbia Daily Spectator, noting her top priority has been the safety of students, faculty and staff.

“The conflict between the rights of pro-Palestinian protesters and the impact that their protests have had on some members of our Jewish community is what makes this moment singularly fraught,” she said.

UC Irvine returns to in-person classes after nearly 50 protesters detained: The University of California, Irvine, will resume in-person instruction and campus operations will return to normal on Friday, according to a school spokesperson.

Classes went remote Thursday after law enforcement personnel used zip ties to restrain demonstrators the prior evening at the university before escorting them away from a pro-Palestinian protest encampment and toward a parking lot.

University spokesperson Tom Vasich said 47 people were arrested, including 26 students, two employees and 19 other individuals. Those who were arrested were taken to the Orange County Jail, where booking and processing were completed. “They were then released on citation,” Vasich said.

Vasich had earlier told CNN 50 people were arrested, but revised the number to 47 later Thursday.

Most of those taken into custody were cited for failure to disperse after a direct police order and a few were arrested for trespassing, Vasich said, adding a full breakdown of how many of those arrested are students or faculty is expected to be released later on Thursday.

“A group of several hundred protestors entered the UC Irvine campus and began surrounding” the school’s Physical Sciences Lecture Hall at around 2:30 p.m., Wednesday, the school said in an emergency update.

The university put out a mutual aid call to local law enforcement and got help from the Irvine Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Department, it said. Authorities cleared what looked like at least half of student protesters at the encampment, aerial footage from CNN affiliate KABC showed.

Pro-Palestinian protesters had set up a campus encampment on April 29, when the university also called in local law enforcement. Days later, the school’s chancellor said the university would continue to negotiate with student protesters demanding their university cut financial ties to Israel over the nation’s military action in Gaza.

UC Berkeley Pro-Palestinian protesters arrested after occupying building:

Law enforcement arrested at least 12 people Thursday evening as they cleared a condemned building at the University of California, Berkeley, that was being occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters, school spokesperson Dan Mogulof told CNN.

Protesters broke into the university’s Anna Head complex with sticks and bolt cutters on Wednesday, where they broke windows and spray-painted walls, police said. The university on Thursday estimated about 60 people were in the building and said the occupation was “not nonviolent civil disobedience.”

The protesters were arrested on suspicion of destruction of property, breaking and entering and trespassing, according to Mogulof.

During the occupation, a Palestinian flag hung from the building, where protesters had set up tents, footage from CNN affiliate KGO shows.

Images from the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area show the building’s interior walls covered in what the group called “antisemitic graffiti,” reading, “Zionism is Nazism” and “Martyrs never die.”

“The Star of David, the most recognizable symbol in Judaism, is seen equated with a swastika,” the council said Wednesday in an X post. “This is not protest, this is pure hate.”

The building’s takeover came a day after the UCB Divest Coalition agreed to end its campus encampment following discussions with university leadership. The coalition did not initiate the break-in at the Anna Head complex, Mogulof said.

UC Berkeley’s chancellor was relieved to bring the encampment protests to a peaceful end, noting the school’s leadership does not support full divestment from Israel at this time, she said.

Pro-Palestine protesters on Wednesday take over a vacant building at the University of California, Berkeley. - Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Pro-Palestine protesters on Wednesday take over a vacant building at the University of California, Berkeley. - Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

“The sale of direct investments is not within the authority of the Office of the Chancellor but rather lies with the UC Regents,” Carol Christ wrote Tuesday in a letter to the Free Palestine Encampment.

If all divestment demands by students were met, the University of California system would have to sell $32 billion of its $175 billion portfolio, UC’s Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher said Tuesday during an Investments Committee meeting held as part of this week’s monthly UC Board of Regents meeting at its Merced campus.

University of Washington president calls for encampment break-up as antisemitic graffiti found on campus: After protests escalated at the University of Washington – with “offensive graffiti across multiple buildings all over campus, some quite clearly both antisemitic and violent” – the school’s president is calling again for the voluntary dismantling of a pro-Palestinian encampment on the Seattle campus.

Students and faculty on Wednesday discovered the graffiti, which has “creat(ed) an unwelcome and fearful environment for many students, faculty and staff, especially those who are Jewish,” President Ana Mari Cauce said later that day in a statement, calling the situation “untenable.”

Cauce asked for the tent camp to break up, echoing her entreaty last week to demonstrators “to dismantle the encampment voluntarily for everyone’s safety.”

Demonstrators rally May 7 at a protest encampment of supporters of Palestinians in Gaza at the University of Washington in Seattle. REUTERS/David Ryder - David Ryder/Reuters
Demonstrators rally May 7 at a protest encampment of supporters of Palestinians in Gaza at the University of Washington in Seattle. REUTERS/David Ryder - David Ryder/Reuters

“Much to my dismay, given the relatively cordial tone of many of our discussions, the representatives also said the new graffiti is an intentional escalation to compel the University to agree to their demands,” she said Wednesday, adding university officials “have engaged sincerely and openly.”

Among protesters’ “escalating demands” is “a new department that would have an ‘anti-Zionist’ litmus test for faculty hiring,” Cauce said in the statement. “Many of these demands, especially the most recent, are contrary to academic freedom and/or to state or federal law.”

“While I strongly support free speech and peaceful protest, I also strongly support the rights of all our community members to live, learn and work without fear,” she said. “The University’s response to students’ calls for change will not be based on an encampment.”

DePaul University protest encampment removed by police: Police in riot gear moved protesters away and dismantled tents Thursday morning at a pro-Palestinian protest encampment at DePaul University in Chicago, video from CNN affiliate WLS shows.

Two protesters accused of blocking nearby traffic were arrested, school spokesperson Russell Dorn told CNN, adding no arrests were made in the campus quad.

The decision to dismantle the encampment came after “good faith efforts” to negotiate with organizers, DePaul President Robert Manuel said.

“From the beginning of the encampment, I have said that we would protect free speech and the ability to dissent until it either prevented us from carrying out the operations of our university or threatened the safety of the members of our community,” Manuel said in an open letter to students and employees. “I am deeply saddened to say the encampment has crossed that line.”

University buildings have been vandalized with graffiti, and the cost to repair the physical damage to the quad, which will be “closed to everyone” until further notice, appears to be nearly $180,000, Manuel said in his letter.

The DePaul Divestment Coalition – a multiethnic, multifaith student group – has been calling on DePaul to “divest from killing and harm abroad” since its encampment was set up April 30.

“DePaul’s administration chose to use violence to disperse the encampment and unilaterally withdrew from negotiations,” Benjamin Meyer, an attorney representing the coalition said. “The students sent administration a calendar invite for a meeting on Monday, in which none of the administrators attended.”

Morehouse College could stop graduation if Biden’s speech is disrupted: Morehouse College’s president has vowed to combat any disruptive behavior during President Joe Biden’s scheduled graduation speech Sunday at the preeminent historically Black institution by shutting down commencement “on the spot.”

“So, for example, prolonged shouting down of the president as he speaks,” Morehouse College President David A. Thomas told CNN’s Victor Blackwell on Thursday. “I have also made a decision that we will also not ask police to take individuals out of commencement in zip ties.

“If faced with the choice, I will cease the ceremonies on the spot if we were to reach that position.”

Biden’s visit to the Atlanta campus approaches as he seeks to convince young voters to send him to the White House for another term, even as many have expressed frustration for his administration’s continued support of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Amanda Musa, Matt Egan, Julia Vargas Jones, Andy Rose, Chris Boyette and Melissa Alonso contributed to this report.

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