Columbia Philosophy Grad Students Condemn Campus Arrests


“We call for the reversal of student suspensions and for departments to refuse to comply with university investigations or sanctions of students and employees participating in non-violent political action.”

[Philosophy Hall, Columbia University]

Current graduate students in the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, as well as alumni of its graduate program, some of whom are professors elsewhere, have released a statement about the protests that have been taking place at the university this month.

Students at Columbia have been protesting Israel’s response to Hamas’s October 7th attack. A few days into the protest, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik suspended students taking part in them and authorized the New York Police Department to arrest protestors. Over 100 people were arrested.

In the statement the Columbia philosophy students “unequivocally condemn President Minouche Shafik’s decision” and demand “the reversal of student suspensions and for departments to refuse to comply with university investigations or sanctions of students and employees participating in non-violent political action.” They also “call on the Columbia administration to commit to never again call police onto campus to suppress student speech.”

Here’s the full text and signatories:

Statement on Recent Events from Graduate Students and Alumni of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University

We, current and former graduate students of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University, are appalled at the decision taken on April 18th by the University President to violate principles of academic freedom and free speech by authorizing the forcible removal and arrest of 108 of our students and colleagues.

On April 18th, the President of Columbia University, in the name of “safety,” brought armed police into our campus to use physical force against students who had established a non-violent encampment in support of Palestine on Columbia’s South Lawn. The encampment did not disrupt classes. It did not block access to campus or buildings. Nevertheless, the police were called in after only a day. The President took this action against the recommendation of the University Senate, violating principles of shared governance established in the wake of the 1968 protests. As a result of these arrests and suspensions, students have sustained injuries, lost access to Columbia health services, and been evicted from student housing with less than 15 minutes to gather their belongings.

This followed months of tensions at Columbia since the horrifying events of October 7th and the devastating aftermath. These events have been the topic of difficult and traumatizing discussion. Columbia’s administration could have responded by promoting dialogue and mutual understanding. Instead, the administration heavily restricted speech on campus and  disproportionately acted to silence one voice in particular – the voice of those protesting against the ongoing oppression and killing of Palestinians. It was in this environment of institutional repression that the student protesters decided to take action.

The University’s decision to arrest student protesters was thus the culmination of months of restriction against the public expression of support for Palestinians. The past few years have seen an alarming trend of bad faith political actors attempting to silence political speech they disagree with by policing academic institutions, thereby undermining elementary principles of academic autonomy. Columbia’s Board of Trustees has demonstrated more interest in appeasing these external forces than responding to the needs of their students, as have the administrations of other universities. We have witnessed the actions of police at other college campuses where professors are thrown to the ground and department chairs are dragged away in zip ties. Regardless of where we stand on the issue of Israel and Palestine, we should all agree that such attempts to suppress discourse are utterly unacceptable in any decent society committed to liberal principles.

As educators, we believe that it is our special responsibility to speak out when the University denies students the right to freely pursue their education. And as philosophers, we have a duty to uphold the values of free thought and open discourse, just as Sidney Morgenbesser and other members of our department did in 1968.

We therefore unequivocally condemn President Minouche Shafik’s decision. We call for the reversal of student suspensions and for departments to refuse to comply with university investigations or sanctions of students and employees participating in non-violent political action. We oppose further efforts from the administration to forcibly remove the new encampment, and call on the Columbia administration to commit to never again call police onto campus to suppress student speech. The best path forward, in our view, is for the administration to continue to negotiate with the representatives of Columbia University Apartheid Divest in good faith and without further threats.

Signed,

Current graduate students and alumni of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University

Updated List of Signatures:

    • Ola Aksnes (Graduate Student) 
    • Avery Archer (Alum)
    • Elizabeth Benn (Alum)
    • Noah Betz-Richman (Graduate Student) 
    • Michael Brent (Alum)
    • Simon Brown (Alum)
    • Ellen Nora Burns (Graduate Student)
    • Samara Burns (Graduate Student)
    • César Cabezas (Alum)
    • Qian Cao (Graduate Student)
    • Bard Cash (Graduate Student)
    • May Chen (Alum)
    • Lisa Clark (Graduate Student)
    • Conor Cullen (Lecturer, Alum)
    • Rivka Chuyun Dai (Graduate Student)
    • Amelle Djemel (Visiting Scholar)
    • Beibei Du (Graduate Student)
    • Jeremy Forster (Alum)
    • Anthony Garuzzo (Graduate Student)
    • Nemira Gasiunas-Kopp (Alum)
    • Justin Xingzhi Guo (Graduate Student)
    • Joe Hamilton (Graduate Student)
    • Thimo Heisenberg (Alum)
    • Yarran Hominh (Alum)
    • Yitu Hu (Graduate Student)
    • Ethan Jacobs (Graduate Student)
    • Ye-Eun Jeong (Graduate Student)
    • Alex Jensen (Graduate Student)
    • Jared Jones (Graduate Student)
    • Bennett Knox (Alum)
    • Brittany Koffer (Lecturer, Alum)
    • Dabin Kwon (Alum)
    • Anya Leinberger (Graduate Student)
    • Yifan Li (Graduate Student)
    • Lisa Liu (Graduate Student) 
    • Helen Han Wei Luo (Graduate Student)
    • Eleonora Maccarone (Alum) 
    • Laura Martin (Alum)
    • Cornelia Mayer (Graduate Student) 
    • William McCarthy (Alum) 
    • Katharine McIntyre (Alum)
    • Devin Morse (Graduate Student)
    • Usha Nathan (Alum)
    • Fred Neuhouser (Alum)
    • Andreja Novakovic (Alum)
    • Ignacio Ojea (Alum)
    • Shivani Radhakrishnan (Alum)
    • Danielle Alma Ravitzki (Graduate Student)
    • Andrew Richmond (Alum)
    • Melissa Rees (Alum)
    • Amogh Sahu (Graduate Student)
    • Weiming Sheng (Graduate Student)
    • Xinyi Song (Graduate Student)
    • Mariam Sousou (Graduate Student)
    • Paul Spohr (Alum)
    • Sapphire Qiaochu Tang (Graduate Student)
    • Nandi Theunissen (Alum)
    • Chuyu Tian (Graduate Student)
    • Naser Tizhoosh (Graduate Student)
    • Aaron Xiaolong Wang (Graduate Student)
    • Connie Wang (Graduate Student)
    • Sara Wexler (Graduate Student)
    • Philip Yaure (Alum)
    • Chi Zhang (Graduate Student)
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Cleo
Cleo
25 days ago

I too am an alumn* of that department and, just for the record, I think that this statement is complete bollocks.

Leslie Glazer PhD
25 days ago

Leaving aside whether the student protesters are just ignorant or under the sway of a mob mentality nevermind possible antisemitism in some, they surely have a right to their own feelings and opinions and can express them if they so choose. The problem however on campus is that they are interupting the work of the university and the education and peace of their fellow students. They have also violated campus policy and also at times, the law. All of this for no actual purpose. The university and its faculty and staff have little if any influence on the policy of the federal government. The students themselves are not being drafted into a war they find unjust. And, more importantly the university has no power or inflience over any government or group in the middle east. So what is the point? Its all performance in an age of narcissism. And given that its all virtual they dont think they should have any consequences. If they have the passion for this cause— whatever they think their cause is— they would move their protest to the whitehouse and congress and to the various embassies of the middle east nations who have no interest in peace and no consideration for the lives of their citizens except ewhen it suits them. And if they choose to not fulfill their responsibilities at school or break any laws in the process in civil disobedience, well, they should as martin luther king noted I believe, willingly and lovingly.

Disillusioned Grad student
Disillusioned Grad student
Reply to  Leslie Glazer PhD
25 days ago

It would be great to actually read their demands (divestment from Israel) which Columbia does have power over. Or the testimonies of Columbia students – the protestors have not disrupted classes or prevented anyone from attending classes.

Confused Junior
Confused Junior
Reply to  Leslie Glazer PhD
24 days ago

This is an excellent way to tell everyone that you have no clue what the encampment was like, what the aims
of the protesters are, and how egregiously hostile and escalatory the administration’s response has been.

A Columbia Observer
A Columbia Observer
Reply to  Confused Junior
22 days ago

Well, what were they about then?

Confused_Junior
Confused_Junior
Reply to  A Columbia Observer
22 days ago

I’m specifically taking aim at the following quote:

The university and its faculty and staff have little if any influence on the policy of the federal government. The students themselves are not being drafted into a war they find unjust. And, more importantly the university has no power or inflience over any government or group in the middle east. So what is the point? Its all performance in an age of narcissism.

This betrays complete ignorance of the demands of the protesters, who are not seeking to get universities to exert influence on federal policy nor on any particular government or group in the Middle East. Their demands have been made exceptionally clear and public for months, so it is simply inexcusable to have strong opinions about the demands while being completely ignorant of their contents, as Leslie Glazer (PHD!) is.

Let’s let the students speak for thesmelves. Here is their website: https://cuapartheiddivest.org/.

On the “Demands” page, they list five demands, the same five demands they’ve advanced for months, not a one of which has to do with pressuring Columbia to influence the federal government or any of the other things Leslie mentions. The demands are these:

  1. Divestment: “Divest all of Columbia’s finances, including the endowment, from companies and institutions that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine. Ensure accountability by increasing transparency around financial investments.”
  2. Academic Boycott: “Sever academic ties with Israeli universities, including the Global Center in Tel Aviv, the Dual Degree Program with Tel Aviv University, and all study-abroad programs, fellowships, and research collaborations with Israeli academic institutions.”
  3. Anti-displacement: “No land grabs, whether in Harlem, Lenapehoking, or Palestine. Cease expansion, provide reparations, and support housing for low-income Harlem residents. No development by Columbia without real community control.”
  4. [This largely centers around Columbia’s fairly aggressive property acquisitions, which have contributed to gentrification in Harlem and harmed local residents. Columbia students have been making this demand for years. See the following, from December 2021: https://theunitedfrontagainstdisplacement.org/urban-core/columbia-university-moves-to-further-gentrify-harlem-residents-and-students-unite-in-opposition/.%5D
  5. No policing on campus: “End the targeted repression of Palestinian students and their allies on and off campus, including through university disciplinary processes. Defund Public Safety and disclose and sever all ties with the NYPD.”
  6. End the silence: “Release a public statement calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza,denouncing the ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people, and call on government officials to do so too.”
  7. [This comes with no expectation that Columbia’s heeding this demand will exert any influence on the federal government, the Israeli government, or, really, anything else at all.]

We can agree or disagree with the demands, debate their merits, point and laugh at those advancing them, wish harm up those who refuse to heed them, whatever. But what we can’t do is engage in a priori speculation about what the demands even are when the protesters have kindly made them easily available for us to just take a damn look at.

A Columbia Observer
A Columbia Observer
Reply to  Confused_Junior
21 days ago

We knew it was all self-righteous play-acting and make believe before looking at the content of their demands. But we have further confirmation now. They’re making the case against the value of higher education. Could they maybe have a glass of water and some humanitarian aid?

Confused Junior
Confused Junior
Reply to  A Columbia Observer
21 days ago

I don’t even know what this means or how to engage with it. I’m tempted to ask for clarification in an attempt to have a good-faith discussion with you, but I’m highly confident this would not go anywhere.

At any rate, I’m sorry your life has gone so poorly that you’ve become this jaded and cynical. Hopefully things will get better for you. Good luck out there.

Louis
Louis
Reply to  Confused Junior
19 days ago

Here is one suggestion about what “Columbia Observer” means, at least with regards to their last comment.

The student protesters don’t speak in a way that we would typically expect from someone who is in the process of getting a college education.

They don’t seem to have any understanding of the issues that they’re protesting. They don’t seem to have any interest in understanding the issues that they’re protesting. They’re inarticulate. They speak in formulaic slogans. And they don’t appear to know the meaning of the basic terms that they’re using like “humanitarian aid” and “apartheid”.

Confused Junior
Confused Junior
Reply to  Louis
18 days ago

May I ask for your evidence for these claims? I’m not aware of good reasons to think that what you’ve said is true of the protesters in general.

I’m sure that one could, should one want, find plenty of videos of individual protesters in the middle of stressful situations (e.g. being assaulted by armed police or harrassed by counter-protesters) who aren’t particularly articulate, but I think all sides with an ounce of good faith should be able to agree that this “evidence” doesn’t reflect poorly upon the protesters in general.

In addition, although this is a bit orthogonal, even if you are right that the protesters in general are inarticulate and have a poor understanding of the relevant issues, this hardly seems one-sided. See, for instance, countless videos counter-protesters demonstrating ignorance of the relevant issues, shouting and cursing, engaging in violence, and so on.