Columbia Offers Remote Classes for the Last Days of the Semester

Equipo
By Equipo
5 Min Read

Columbia University will offer students the option of attending classes remotely for the last few days of the semester, a reflection of how days of tumult have unsettled the campus.

After the arrests of more than 100 student protesters last week, student activists were undeterred, setting up a large new encampment on the university’s lawn. Dozens of faculty members have criticized the decision to arrest students. And crowds of protesters, unaffiliated with the school, descended on Columbia, at times harassing Jewish students or shouting antisemitic comments outside the school gates.

“Safety is our highest priority,” the university’s provost, Angela V. Olinto, said in an email on Monday night, announcing the new hybrid classes.

The school’s decision means that the campus could seem relatively quiet during what is typically a bustling final week of the semester — save for the protesters. The last day of classes is April 29.

The tensions in Upper Manhattan have also reverberated to other academic institutions. Dozens were arrested on Monday at Yale and New York University after students there staged their own protests. And students on other campuses, including the University of Minnesota, the University of California, Berkeley, and Emerson College, have also erected protest encampments.

Many schools, watching the Columbia campus, have chosen other strategies to handle protests. A number of schools have closed off parts of campus to prevent similar disruptions, including Harvard, which closed the gates to Harvard Yard to the public.

At Barnard, Columbia’s sister college, where many students had received interim suspensions for the tent demonstration, the school’s president, Laura Ann Rosenbury, extended an olive branch in a Monday night email. The college offered to lift most students’ suspensions and restore their access to campus if they agreed to follow the rules, she said, in an acknowledgment that many had “not previously engaged in misconduct.”

For those who still face discipline, meals, mental health counseling and academic support will be available, Ms. Rosenbury said. Faculty members may also opt to allow those students to complete their classes virtually.

“I strongly believe that exposure to uncomfortable ideas is a vital component of education, and I applaud the boldness of all of our students who speak out,” Ms. Rosenbury said in the email, her first message since the arrests of protesters. “But no student should fear for their safety while at Barnard, and no one should feel that they do not belong.”

She added: “In these last few weeks together before our seniors graduate, let’s be good to one another.”

It was not yet apparent whether the turmoil would prompt additional waves of arrests, or if college leaders would adopt a less harsh playbook for the end of the semester.

At Columbia, the university’s president, Nemat Shafik, continued to face an onslaught of criticism for her handling of demonstrations.

Hundreds of faculty members rallied and wrote open letters on Monday criticizing Dr. Shafik, who goes by Minouche, for calling in the police last week to make arrests. She could also soon face a censure resolution from the school’s faculty.

At the same time, Jewish groups are pressing the university to do more to protect against antisemitism. A number of lawmakers have also demanded Dr. Shafik’s resignation, arguing that the school has failed to safeguard its Jewish students and professors.

“Anarchy has engulfed the campus,” the 10 Republican House representatives from New York wrote in a letter on Monday to the school.

The email from Dr. Olinto, the university’s provost, seemed a tacit acknowledgment that many students were, at the very least, uncomfortable on campus. She wrote that if even one student wanted to finish out the year online, professors should offer hybrid classes — or move to fully remote if that is not an option.

“It’s vital that teaching and learning continue during this time,” Dr. Olinto said.

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