Various city officials and University professors have released press statements regarding student arrests at press conferences on April 18 and April 19.

On April 18, New York City Mayor Eric Adams held a press conference with the NYPD regarding the recent Columbia protests and student arrests. On April 19, various Columbia University professors held a press conference regarding their response to the arrests and University response. 

Mayor Adams and NYPD Press Conference

Adams started out the April 18 conference by thanking the NYPD and describing the situation, stating that over 108 arrests had been made on Thursday. “Students have a right to free speech, but do not have the right to violate university policies and disrupt learning on campus,” Adams said. “Heartbreak does not give you the right to harass others, to spread hate.” Adams advised protesters to remain peaceful “because we will not be in a city of lawlessness.”

NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban affirmed Adams’ words, confirming that arrests occurred due to students “trespassing” after they had been suspended. “These arrests were made without incident,” Caban remarked. “We will now let the rest of the criminal justice system run its course.”

Captain Jaclyn Keane of the NYPD Legal Bureau stated that out of the 108 arrested students, all received summons for trespasses, while two also received summons for obstruction of governmental administration.

A question from the crowd asking if any weapon or violence was present at the protests, stating a sit-in “is some sort of a peaceful protest.” Adams confirmed that peaceful protest does not violate city laws. NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell then stated, “Let’s put it on the record. The clear and present danger is language used by Columbia University in their letter to us. That was not our words, it was their words.”

Another question from the crowd was regarding “vile” language used by students directed at the NYPD. Adams stated he agreed that such language was “vile” and “very troubling,” commenting that students “should not be using inflammatory comments.” Chief Chell stated that while protesters were arrested “in a peaceful manner” and with “no resistance,” NYPD officers were reportedly told, “[they’re] the KKK, [they] should go kill [them]selves, [they’re] baby killers.”

NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey concluded the press conference by stating that “the NYPD respects people’s rights to protest.” Maddrey affirmed that the NYPD would be working “closely” with Columbia and be “guided by [the University’s] policies,” as the Columbia campus is private property.

Columbia Professors Press Conference

During a press conference on Friday, both Columbia and Barnard professors gave notes on the recent events. Professor of Anthropology at Barnard and Columbia and Co-Director of the Center for Palestine Studies Nadia Abu El-Haj condemned the University’s response, saying she had “never seen anything like this,” referring to yesterday’s arrests. She stated that President Shafik had violated the sanctity of the University by calling riot-geared police, stating that students were the ones preventing campus from becoming violent. Abu El-Haj claimed that the University was protecting Zionists even if it made others feel unsafe, thus increasing the potential for harm. Abu El-Haj later declared her belief in a vote of no-confidence for Shafik, stating that her decision to call the police on students was “appalling.” She also stated that antisemitism was being used as a “Trojan Horse” to attack principles of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

Nadia Abu El-Haj later noted the unprecedented University response, mentioning that during past anti-war demonstrations and after September 11, there was no crackdown on most university campuses. Abu El-Haj compared Columbia’s response to that of the 1960s protests, a sentiment which Professor Joseph Howley shared. 

Frederick Nouhouser, Professor of Philosophy at Barnard further stated that in the 1980s, Columbia students demonstrated in anti-apartheid movements, barricading Hamilton Hall, which led administrators to meet with student leaders for conversation. Students were not arrested en masse and police were not called onto campus, he stated. 

Nara Milanich, a Professor of History at Barnard, stated her belief as a Jewish professor that antisemitism was being weaponized to attack teaching and academic freedom. Referring to Wednesday’s congressional hearing, Milanich stated that Shafik ceded the question of academic freedom to people not affiliated with the University, then ceding to the police on Thursday. Milanich claimed that the University’s actions did not make Jewish people or anyone else safer or address what she believed to be the core issue of bigotry. 

Associate Professor of Classics at Columbia Joseph Howley expressed his concern about the University administration’s intentions as an academic institution. Howley expressed that University leaders seemed to not believe in and even actively work against values of academic freedom, which he stated as crucial for academic excellence. Once again recalling Wednesday’s hearing, he believed that the University was using the ability to fire, hire, and discipline faculty as a way to appease members of Congress, and claimed that Shafik’s statements about professors were often untrue. After Wednesday’s hearing in which Shafik claimed that Professor Joseph Massad had been reprimanded for an article he wrote on October 8 and was under investigation, the professor released a statement emphasizing that he had not been reprimanded by his Chair and that he did not know of an investigation prior to the hearing. Bwog reached out to Columbia Media Relations after Professor Massad’s statement, and they reported that he is under investigation. It is unclear whether Professor Massad was notified of the investigation before the hearing.

Howley clarified that Section 444 of the University Statutes, which Shafik referenced included policy on law enforcement on campus, require the President to consult with the Executive Committee of the University Senate before bringing law enforcement on campus. He claimed that it had been broken multiple times throughout the past year, as police had previously been allowed on campus without any consultation. Other members of the Senate disagreed. 

Professor Howley identified his belief that those who sought to protect the community from antisemitism did not do so out of protection of Jewish students, but rather to suppress criticism of Israel. He stated that he thought the University’s Task Force on Antisemitism was created for this purpose, claiming it is run by people who are not experts in antisemitism or racism. Howley claimed that Task Force members have reprimanded pro-Palestine individuals in their Departments, stating that educators must help students hold diverse ideas without feeling threatened. 

Abu El-Haj stated that she thinks the Task Force on Antisemitism should be disbanded, as any task force on forms of racism should include a wider range. She stated that currently, any accusation of antisemitism is taken as fact without criterion for assessment. Abu El-Haj remarked that fear among students is reasonable since pro-Palestine and anti-war speech is facing backlash. 

Update made on Friday, April 19 at 5:55 pm:

In a press conference, US Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) condemned the characterization of pro-Palestine protesters on campus, saying, “There’s a conflation of antisemitism with criticism of the Israeli government, and it should not be.”

In addition to Representative Bowman, more Columbia faculty have condemned President Shafik’s authorization of arrests on campus. At a virtual press conference on Zoom on Thursday, Professors James Schamus and Sheldon Pollock, two GS students, and a law school and CUAD member spoke about academic freedom on campus. Pollock discussed the NYPD presence on campus, stating, “The attack on students today violates fundamentally a core component of academic life, namely shared governance. The president consulted in the most cynical way with the University Senate; did not achieve consensus on the deployment of NYPD on Columbia campus. This has not happened since 1968. And in the last 50 years, Columbia has been extremely careful about these extreme measures, and that care was violated today.”

Update made on Friday, April 19 at 9:15 pm:

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Forum

On Friday afternoon, more than 300 faculty members across the Columbia and Barnard communities convened in an emergency Zoom meeting to discuss pressing issues. The meeting, organized by the University’s American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter, served as an open forum to share thoughts about the recent congressional hearing, police presence, and mass arrests and suspensions

The heavy police presence on campus over the past few days has been met with concern from faculty members. “There have almost certainly never been more guns on the Columbia University campus than [there were] yesterday,” Professor of Architecture Reinhold Martin described. 

To invite police and external forces to campus, the President must consult the faculty on the Executive Committee of the University Senate. While Shafik’s administration informed the Executive Committee of its intention to invite NYPD on campus, it did not consult the Committee. The Committee’s widespread disagreement did not affect its decision.

Joseph Slaughter, English professor at Columbia, expressed concerns about the administration’s disregard for protocol. “[Senior Administration] has turned the norm of Senate Executive Committee consultation into simply a notification requirement,” he said. “The letter of the law is iffy, but the spirit of the law is not.”

Police presence escalated into arrests and interim suspensions. Faculty members underscored the disproportionate disciplining of students of color and discussed the University’s rash decision to potentially render students homeless without a defined strategy. Many suggested reversing suspensions.

Faculty detailed the lack of transparency from the administration about student violations, and many called for an investigation into the thought process for enforcing disciplinary measures with faculty oversight. 

“The failure of the administration began three months ago when they avoided any open discussion… and I would like to extend [the AAUP’s action] not only [to] police actions but [for] destroying the culture of academic discussion,” Georg Haas from Columbia Department of Music said. 

“What happened yesterday is not just a threat to students who want to demonstrate; it is a threat to faculty saying ‘you work here, you’re officers of this university,’” Julia Bannon, President of the Student Workers of Columbia, noted.

Faculty deliberated on potential collective actions, debating whether a vote of no-confidence, reprimand, or censure would be best. As the semester comes to an end, they recognized the need to take immediate action. Faculty also tossed ideas of scheduling a protest as a physical manifestation of their disagreement and considered awarding Pass or A grades to all the students on their rosters before suspensions are processed. 

Bannon emphasized how the issue goes beyond the University President. “The problem is not Minouche Shafik alone but that whoever is in that slot is on the payroll of ultra-rich trustees,” she said. 

Before the meeting, the AAUP sent out a joint statement to Columbia and Barnard’s Presidents, trustees, and relevant stakeholders. The statement formalizes their concerns about violations to academic freedom and shared governance principles. 

Campus encampment via Bwog Staff