Anti-Israel Agitators Step Up Demands Ahead of Graduation

Anti-Israel agitators at UT Arlington | Image by Carlos Turcios/The Dallas Express
Anti-Israel agitators at UT Arlington | Image by Carlos Turcios/The Dallas Express

Tensions on college campuses in different parts of the country are still making headlines as anti-Israel agitators remain undeterred in their efforts to compel institutions of higher learning to meet their demands.

Columbia University canceled its main commencement ceremony after ongoing campus unrest over anti-Israel protests.

In a statement released on Monday, Columbia officials announced that graduates would participate in school-level ceremonies instead of a university-wide commencement. The letter did not address the protests directly but mentioned Columbia would be focusing its resources on keeping the ceremonies safe and respectful.

That same day, 13 federal judges said they would not hire clerks from Columbia. The letter condemns Columbia’s President Minouche Shafik for not taking harsher punishments against students and faculty who have been taking part in on-campus demonstrations.

“Considering recent events, and absent extraordinary change, we will not hire anyone who joins the Columbia University community — whether as graduates or law students — beginning with the entering class of 2024,” the judges wrote.

Last week, the administrative board of student editors of Columbia Law Review called for the university’s law school administration to cancel upcoming exams and either give every student a passing grade or switch to a pass-or-fail grading system for the semester.

“Videos have circulated of police clad in riot gear mocking and brutalizing our students,” the editors wrote, referring to when the protest at the university purportedly took a more violent turn. “The event of last night left us, and many of our peers, unable to focus and highly emotional during this tumultuous time.”

In Texas, anti-Israel agitators gathered at UT Austin on Sunday to demand that the university divest from businesses associated with Israel and that UT Austin’s President Jay Hartzell step down.

UT police, officers with the Austin Police Department, and state troopers remained close by, but no arrests were made as the protest remained peaceful.

Hartzell broke his silence last week, responding for the first time to the campus protests that have resulted in the arrest of over 100 individuals.

“I am grateful to work at a university where students, faculty, and staff care deeply enough about community, national, and world events to rally around those causes,” said Hartzell. “It is difficult — for all of us — to see serious police presence and arrests on our campus. It is worse, though, to see a handful of people flout rules meant to protect everyone.”

Hartzell blamed protests unaffiliated with UT Austin students for inciting violence that led to the clash between demonstrators and police.

Some UT Austin faculty penned a letter of no confidence in Hartzell following the April 24 protests, expressing their lack of trust in his ability to manage the school. The letter has amassed over 600 signatures from faculty.

Still, on Friday, nearly 40 individuals signed a letter written by the Alums for Campus Fairness applauding Hartzell’s commitment to keeping the campus safe.

“While other academic institutions have buckled to the destabilizing demands of protesters and outside groups, President Hartzell, Chairman Eltife, and the Board of Regents have taken the correct approach to keep UT campuses safe,” reads the letter. “We applaud their ongoing efforts to uphold the values and mission of the University of Texas system.”

That same day, faculty at UT Dallas released another letter condemning the UT Dallas administration’s decision to bring in police at a May 1 protest, where students had set up an encampment on campus.

The letter included three calls to action on the part of university leadership, written as such:

To drop or refrain from pressing legal charges against all individuals;

Allow student activists to complete their semesters’ coursework without suspension, expulsion, or other punishment this semester and without restricting their future options to enroll in classes or live in university housing;

Affirm that faculty who were detained will face no professional repercussions.

Additionally, the letter states that the faculty strongly object to the suspension or expulsion of students participating in the protests. At least 70 faculty members have signed the letter.

The student government posted its response to the May 1 protest on Instagram:

“UTD Student Government is horrified and outraged at this violent and disproportionate response, and we condemn the use of force to silence our community. We believe that all Comets have the right to free speech and to express their opinions through peaceful protests.”

The Islamic Association of North Texas also released a letter that included a list of 15 questions for city leaders following the protest. The group asked why the Richardson Police Department was called despite there allegedly being “no imminent threat of violence on campus” and why the arrested students and community members were taken to Collin County jail, over 20 miles away from the campus.

The letter has since been signed by 27 other Dallas businesses and organizations.

UT Arlington’s Progressive Students Association released a list of six demands aimed at the school’s administration. Some demands include more financial transparency between UT Arlington and military contractors, divestment from weapons manufacturers doing business with Israel, and for study abroad programs to Israel to be canceled.

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