Pro-Palestinian protests: How some universities reached deals with students

Pro-Palestinian protests: How some universities reached deals with students

College campuses around the world have exploded in recent weeks with protests by pro-Palestinian students and teachers against Israel's war on Gaza, which has left more than 34,000 people dead.

At university after university, protesters are demanding that their institutions sever all direct or indirect financial and academic ties with Israel, including divestment from companies with ties to Israel.

The demonstrations gave rise to various reactions from universities. On Monday, Columbia University canceled its main graduation ceremony. Many universities have brought police and other law enforcement to campus. In the United States alone, more than 2,000 students have been arrested. Campus protests and repression have also spread to other parts of the world, from Canada to Australia and many European countries. Students from Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom also set up camps on Monday.

Yet as tension continues to rise on many campuses, students and administrators at some universities have managed to negotiate deals that have met some of the protesters' demands.

How did these universities handle the protests and what agreements did students and administrators reach in these cases?

What compromises have universities and protesters reached?

Overall, the agreements that have helped ease tensions revolve around a few common themes:

Some universities agreed to divest from companies with ties to Israel, while others said they would review the requests and submit them to bodies overseeing their investments. In some cases, universities have agreed to disclose their investments, without committing to divest.

Other universities, some of which have also given ground on divestment demands, have agreed to invest in creating new centers or hiring new professors to raise awareness of Palestine.

In exchange, the students on these campuses agreed to end their encampments.

In some cases, universities have chosen to take no action to disperse the encampments and allow them to continue. This is the case at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and the University of California at Berkeley.

Which universities have acceded to specific student requests?

Northwestern University, located in Illinois, reached an agreement with its student protesters on April 29 to take down most of the tents. However, it allowed them to continue their protest – but not in the form of a camp – until June 1. The university has promised to provide ways for students to engage with the board's investment committee, including reestablishing an investment accountability advisory committee in the fall. This advisory committee could review divestment proposals from university members. The institute agreed to disclose its investments through its endowment funds to “internal stakeholders,” which include current students, faculty, staff and administrators. Northwestern also agreed to support the studies of five Palestinian undergraduate students.

Brown University in Rhode Island agreed on April 30 that the Corporation, Brown's highest governing body, would vote on divestment from Israeli-affiliated companies at a meeting in October. In return, the students liberated the camps set up since April 24.

Also on April 30, students and administrators at Evergreen State College in Washington state entered into a pact. The students broke camp for a week. The university has established working groups to assess, among other things, investment policies and the possibility of divestment, and to verify whether the institution's grant policies help committed governments in illegal occupations abroad.

On May 1, the University of Minnesota announced a compromise under which it agreed to provide protesters with information about public companies in which it had invested. However, the university clarified that nondisclosure agreements prevented it from disclosing information about private companies in which it had invested. She said the administration recommended the university police department avoid arresting the protesting students. However, the university said it would not ban employers from attending career fairs because it does not “support restricting students’ career opportunities.” The students had requested that companies with ties to Israel not be invited.

Protesting students at Rutgers University in New Jersey reached an agreement with the administration on May 2. The university agreed to establish an Arab cultural center and hire staff and faculty knowledgeable about Palestinian communities, while mentioning Palestine, Palestinians and Gaza in future communications. She also agreed to collaborate with students, faculty and staff to help 10 displaced Palestinian students complete their degrees at Rutgers. The university promised that no students, staff or faculty involved in the encampment would face retaliation. The students' request for divestment is also under consideration.

Britain's Goldsmiths University reached an agreement on May 3 after students set up camp in the university's library. Goldsmiths has agreed to a new ethical investment policy. The group of student protesters will have the opportunity to present their “evidence of Goldsmiths' complicity with Israel” to the institute's financial committee. Goldsmiths also agreed to name one of the media department's lecture halls after Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist killed by Israeli forces while on assignment in the West Bank. The institute will also conduct a review of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which its critics have called so broad that it effectively excludes most criticism of towards Israel.

The University of California, Riverside (UCR) released a statement on May 3 saying an agreement had been reached to peacefully end the encampments. The university announced that it would publish several information about its investments online. UCR's business school has also halted several international programs, including in Israel. Students also want the university to ban the sale on campus of Sabra Hummus, a brand of packaged hummus owned by PepsiCo and the Israel-based Strauss Group. The university said it would review the request.

Thompson Rivers University (UTR) in British Columbia also reached an agreement on Saturday, May 4, following negotiations, making it the first Canadian institute to have reached an agreement. The UTR student group, called the People's University of Gaza, had no encampments and began pushing for divestment through an email sent to the administration on April 30, wrote a protesting UTR student in a statement to Al Jazeera. The UTR administration agreed to disclose its investments within 30 days of the students filing a Freedom of Information request. A UTR student told Al Jazeera that he had already submitted the application. Once UTR reveals its investments, students will draft a divestment proposal.
However, the UTR refused to publicly condemn the “acts of genocide in Gaza” and demand an end to them, which was one of the students' demands. “We will continue to engage with the institution on this issue,” reads a press release from the People’s University of Gaza to UTR.

What is happening on other campuses?

Columbia announced Monday that there would be small school-level ceremonies during this week and next, instead of one large graduation ceremony.

Also on Monday, pro-Palestinian student protesters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) resisted the university's deadline to evacuate the encampment. The president of the institute sent a letter warning the students, in which he said they would be suspended if they did not disperse voluntarily. Harvard officials sent a similar letter to students Monday, stating that students who continued the encampment “would be removed from their school for an involuntary leave of absence.”

Al Jazeera

Translation: AFPS