Columbia is rethinking its commencement ceremony after campus protests

Columbia University is reconsidering its commencement plans after weeks of pro-Palestinian protests ended after authorities entered a barricaded school building and arrested dozens, a university source and two members of the student government said.

The university’s major commencement ceremony is to be cancelled, but smaller events are still planned.

After a meeting with top university leaders on Friday, administrators indicated that two student government members were unsure if they could hold the commencement ceremony at the main Morningside Heights campus in Manhattan due to security concerns.

It is not known whether final decisions have been made.

“We know our students and their loved ones are wondering about plans for university start and school days. “Offices throughout Columbia are committed to ensuring that all ceremonies run smoothly and that all of our students and their families and friends get the celebration they deserve,” a Columbia spokesperson said in a statement. “We will share more information about ongoing preparations soon.”

One of the student government representatives at the meeting said Columbia’s administration was primarily concerned about outside protesters and was struggling to find an alternative venue.

Students told university leaders that many in the student body were concerned about chancellor Minuch Shafiq speaking at the ceremony. “Her presence will cause a lot of grief,” one of the student leaders told NBC News.

Student demonstrators occupied the “Gaza Solidarity Camp” at Columbia University on Monday.Michael Nigro / AP via Sipa USA

Other students are worried about the cost of staying on campus until May 15.

An estimated 15,000 students plan to graduate May 15 in separate outdoor ceremonies. Commencement at an Ivy League school is a venerable tradition dating back to 1758, when the school was known as King’s College. Each school at Columbia typically held its own graduation ceremonies.

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Some faculty and staff at Columbia and Barnard plan to attend an alternate graduation ceremony on May 16, a faculty member said. Another member involved in the planning said it would be inspired by the counter-initiation held in 1968.

Columbia’s Upper Manhattan campus erupted on April 17 when students pitched about 50 tents demanding a cease-fire in Gaza and urging the university to divest from companies that could profit from the war.

Riotous NYPD officers broke into a building occupied by protesters at Columbia University on Tuesday night.Kena Betancur/AFP – Getty Images

Authorities chased the protesters away, but they returned — and encampments quickly sprung up on college campuses across the country.

In Columbia, school administrators asked New York City police officers for help after protesters — including those identified by city officials as “professional outdoor rioters” — occupied a building on campus early Tuesday and held themselves back.

On Tuesday night, riot police descended on the school around 9 p.m. and entered the occupied Hamilton Hall through a second-floor window. Officials said nearly 100 people, including 40 on the first floor of the banned building, were arrested.

The arrests shook confidence in Shafiq among some students and faculty at Columbia. In a letter to the New York Police Department asking for help in clearing Hamilton Hall, the university’s president said the encroachment there “has left us with no choice.”

In a request for police assistance, Columbia asked the NYPD to remain on campus until at least May 17.

Police arrested pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University on Tuesday.Stephanie Keith / Getty Images

A Columbia spokeswoman had warned students that they would face suspension if they did not dismantle the encampment that had grown on the campus’ west lawn by the end of the academic year, and that they would not be eligible to graduate if they were seniors.

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“The disturbances on campus have created an intimidating environment for many,” said spokesman Ben Chang, adding that the school’s actions “are about responding to the protesters’ actions, not their cause.”

As campus unrest has rocked other schools, including police intervention and arrests, Columbia’s dilemma — whether to hold a commencement ceremony but with major security concerns or cancel it entirely — is among other colleges.

Last month, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles said it was canceling its major commencement ceremony scheduled for May 10, which included “Crazy Rich Asians” director John M. Also includes Sue’s keynote address. Awarding honorary degrees to tennis star Billie Jean King and others.

The school already canceled a Muslim teenager’s commencement speech after social media posts about Israel’s war in Gaza sparked controversy. But USC said it will still host individual school commencement ceremonies and other related events.

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