Free Speech Vital

U.S. Universities Police Demonstrations, Management Backlash Columbia University Senate Condemns Intervention, Repudiates Damage to Tradition of Academic Freedom in Governance

As the wave of student and faculty support for the Palestinians at US institutions of higher learning continues, a number of university presidents and other members of the administration face being held accountable for demanding that police enter their campuses to handle demonstrations. At Columbia University in New York City, the faculty-student senate passed a resolution on Friday (26) condemning attempts by outside parties to intervene in campus affairs, undermining academic freedom and the school’s tradition of shared governance. Other institutions of higher learning have also taken similar action against their senior management.

Columbia University hired a private company to break into dormitories and check students’ mobile phones.
Columbia’s senate is responsible for oversight, but its powers do not include impeaching the president. At its meeting last Friday, the Senate cited a report from the Senate’s Administrative Committee, which criticised the university’s administration for failing to consult the Senate when formulating policies, for failing to spell out clearly the procedures for resuming a diverse education programme when it suspended the programme and terminated the contracts of the relevant staff members, and for hiring an ‘invasive’ private investigative firm to investigate students and faculty members and authorising the New York police to enter the campus and arrest students for demonstrating. The report details how the firm used ‘invasive investigative methods’ to harass students, including attempting to break into dormitories without their consent and threatening students with suspensions for handing over their mobile phones and communications to cooperate with the investigation.

After a two-hour meeting, the Senate finally passed a resolution with 62 votes in favour, 14 against and 3 abstentions, condemning external interference in internal affairs, which violates the school’s tradition of academic freedom and shared governance. On the issue of the police’s recent entry into the campus to curb a demonstration, the resolution mentions that the Senate Executive Committee had already expressed its disapproval to the university’s management, but the latter still requested the police to intervene, which has aroused serious concerns about the principle of shared governance and the transparency of the university’s decision-making. The resolution requested the Senate Executive Committee to continue to report on the above issues and to request the University to take action to rectify them, and that the Senate would set up a task force to investigate and make recommendations. However, the Board of Trustees did not censure President Minouche Shafik, who is a member of the Board of Trustees, and the Columbia Board of Trustees, which holds real power over senior personnel, stated that it still supports her.

Emerson College Passes Motion of No Confidence in President
Other colleges and universities have also been accused of mishandling demonstrations. At Emerson College in Boston, where more than 100 protesters were arrested last Thursday, the student body unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in President Jay Bernhardt the day before, calling for his immediate resignation. Bernhardt then sent an email to students and faculty acknowledging the harm he had done to the arrested students and the college community. At the University of Texas at Austin, where the university joined the governor in inviting nearly 100 state troopers to campus last Wednesday to arrest more than 50 protesters, nearly 200 faculty and staff members signed a petition on Friday expressing no confidence in Chancellor Jay Hartzell.

Hundreds of people were arrested at several colleges and universities in clashes between police and protesters on Thursday and Friday. The Washington Post reported that George Washington University, which is near the White House, demanded that police enter the campus early Friday morning to clear the area, but Washington police eventually called off the operation at the last minute. City officials were quoted as saying that there were no immediate plans to clear the campus, but that they would change their minds if the demonstrators turned violent or if activists hijacked the campus. Students protesting at Columbia University said on Friday that they would continue the encampment after talks with the university reached an impasse. In addition, police in riot gear entered Boston’s Northeastern University yesterday and detained about 100 protesters accused of being anti-Semitic.

Camp set-ups spread to Paris to support Israeli-Palestinian clashes
In addition, the demonstration at the university has spread overseas. At the Paris Institute of Political Studies, some pro-Palestinian students have been demonstrating on campus for the past few days, and some of them clashed with pro-Israeli protesters in the street on Friday, before police arrived to separate the two sides and calm the incident. Police arrived to separate the two sides and calm the incident. The students later announced that the demonstration was over, and the school said it would not pursue disciplinary action against the demonstrators.

(New York Times/Washington Post/Reuters/AFP)

Photo – Students from New York University confront police in a camp in New York City on Friday in solidarity with Gaza. (AFP)

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