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Rutgers protest camp must be cleared by 4 p.m., leaders say: Updates

Pro-Palestinian Rutgers protesters dismantled their encampment on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus after saying they had successful negotiations with university officials Thursday afternoon.

Among the points of the agreement, Rutgers said it will work to provide assistance to 10 displaced students from Gaza to finish their education at Rutgers.

Student organizers said Rutgers agreed to work with student protesters to support displaced Palestinians. Rutgers will also review a relationship with Birzeit University in the Palestinian West Bank. And the university will review protesters’ demand that Rutgers divest its investments in Israeli interests, the students said.

In a statement, the chancellor of Rutgers New Brunswick said “the resolution was achieved through constructive dialogue between the protesting students and our leadership teams.” He provided a list of what the protesters wanted and the university’s response to each.

“This agreement opens the door to continued dialogue and better addresses the needs of our Arab, Muslim and Palestinian student body, which numbers more than 7,000,” he said.

Rutgers officials had given protesters who had camped on the New Brunswick campus until 4 p.m. Thursday to disburse, according to a message sent by Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway.

Holloway said earlier Thursday that Rutgers had “made the unprecedented decision to postpone morning exams on the College Avenue campus.”

“We understand the importance of testing and the impact any disruption can have on our students’ academic progress,” Holloway said in a letter to the university community. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to provide a safe environment for our students to learn and succeed.”

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College campuses across the country are bringing in police while pro-Palestinian protesters remain in camps.

The protesters, whom Holloway described as Rutgers students and “individuals who do not belong in our community,” had been camped since April 29 at the Voorhees Mall on the Rutgers College Avenue campus. They are among dozens of protest groups that have set up similar camps on college campuses across the country, some to protest Israeli military action in Gaza and others calling on campuses to divest from investments in Israeli companies.

Student protesters had called on Rutgers to strengthen its Middle Eastern studies offerings. Rutgers said that “the Chancellor’s Office will convene a task force to conduct a feasibility study for creating a Department of Middle Eastern Studies and hiring faculty. The committee’s first task is to identify gaps in the current faculty and make recommendations. “.

Rutgers-New Brunswick said in the agreement with protesters that it will “review and follow up on the relationship established in 2022 with Birzeit University to explore avenues for collaboration in research and academic exchange, and the feasibility of student exchange and/or study in abroad through RU Global”. Studies.”

As part of its agreement with protesters, Rutgers said it will “develop a plan for the creation of an Arab Cultural Center with designated physical space and a hiring plan for administrators and staff by the start of the fall 2024 semester in New Brunswick.” .

Protesters had called for Rutgers to accept at least 10 displaced students from Gaza to study on scholarship at Rutgers University.

Rutgers said it “has a close partnership with Scholar Connections and will work with a committee of students, faculty and staff to implement support for 10 displaced Palestinian students to complete their education at Rutgers.”

In a statement, Rutgers New Brunswick Chancellor Conway said that “while the request was made for the university to divest from companies involved in Israel and sever ties with Tel Aviv University, such decisions are outside our control.” administrative area. However, following our commitment established university policies, the divestment request is under review.”

Protest organizers at Rutgers announced they agreed to disband the encampment after the Chancellor’s office agreed to eight of their 10 demands, calling it a “major victory.”

“Three hours ago we thought they were all going to arrest us. And here we are now. “We just accepted a demand from the Chancellery accepting eight out of 10 of our demands that we offered and demanded from the administration at the beginning of the camp,” a student organizer announced on Instagram.

Protest organizers shared similar messages in WhatsApp groups.

The students said the eight demands include the creation of an Arab cultural center; provide 10 scholarships for displaced students from Gaza; partnering with Birzeit University in the West Bank; hire senior managers with cultural competence; and amnesty for those participating in the protests.

Rutgers did not agree to divestment, which protesters considered their biggest demand, but said they secured a meeting with those responsible for university investment decisions. Rutgers also said it would not end its partnership with Tel Aviv University, which was another of the demands.

-Hannan Adely

A small crowd of protesters remained on the Rutgers grounds after the camp dispersed, chanting “Free, Free Palestine.”

Megan Schumann, director of public relations for Rutgers-New Brunswick, confirmed that “protesters are dispersing from Voorhees Mall. We hope to have a statement to make later.”

A notice on the Rutgers website says that due to the day’s protests, “some exams scheduled for this afternoon have been relocated to the College Avenue campus. Check with your departments and instructors about exam locations. All Other exams and activities will be carried out as scheduled.”

Todd Wolfson, president of the AAUP union that represents full-time Rutgers faculty, said it appears to be a peaceful resolution.

Student protesters on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus are announcing that they have agreed to leave their camp at 4 p.m. Some protesters have begun to gather up their pillows and blankets.

Several hundred non-protesters stood around the perimeter of the camp watching the situation unfold.

A former student said to be part of the campus’s Center for Islamic Life addressed the crowd. He told them about family members who died in the Israeli attacks on Gaza. He said that he has a cousin who was a pediatrician and who was murdered two weeks ago.

“This is not a quick victory. “This is something we have to fight hard for,” he said.

“We are here for one reason: the people of Gaza,” the student said, calling on protesters to work hard.

A student organizer told protesters they had achieved several “victories” after meeting with Chancellor Conway. These include: Rutgers will work with student protesters to support displaced Palestinians. Rutgers will review its relationship with Birzeit University in the Palestinian West Bank. The university will review protesters’ demand that Rutgers divest its investments in Israeli interests.

The crowd erupted in applause.

The students say they are considering clearing the camp before 4 p.m. if there is an agreement. Rutgers will issue a statement to the media at that time if protesters agree to administrative negotiations.

Northwestern University became the first American school to publicly announce an agreement with protesters at the university outside Chicago on Monday, followed by Brown University’s announcement on Tuesday of an agreement with student organizers to curb protest activity at the Ivy League campus in Providence, Rhode Island. Tuesday in exchange for Brown Corporation voting on a divestment measure in October.

The student protesters are using an ingenious way to communicate without using megaphones. One speaks and the rest of the group repeats. A student protester addressed the crowd after leaving a meeting with Chancellor Conway.

The atmosphere is optimistic.

They are debating whether to stay and hold the line or leave.

Rutgers faculty union officials said their unions “defend the right of our students and our members to freedom of speech, assembly and expression. Union members who signed up to be observers or advocates to protect the students in case of arrests and repression are organized and present at Voorhees Mall.”

A protest organizer explained to the crowd the negotiation process with University officials.

“I fully support protecting the camp, but I do not support mass arrests,” said one student. He said he did not want a “military response” like Columbia’s. The crowd listened. He was referring to the fact that Columbia University earlier in the week sent New York police officers to its Ivy League campus to arrest more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters, some of whom had barricaded themselves in a building on the campus. campus.

Holloway said protesters’ demonstration Thursday morning disrupted 28 scheduled exams, affecting more than 1,000 students. “While protesters ultimately responded to our request to end the disruption, the disruption negatively affected our students and university operations and forced our postponement announcement,” she wrote. “This morning, we met again with the students representing the protest, again expressing our concerns for the safety and success of the students, and informed them that their tents must be removed from the Voorhees Mall today at 4 pm,” Holloway wrote.

“I don’t want anyone to be arrested, but I’m for escalation,” one student organizer told a crowd gathered on the lawn. The group has designated some members as marshals in neon jackets. They asked the journalists to leave. Many of the protesters covered their faces and wore sunglasses.

The police cars were parked in the meadow and there is a clear sense of tension here, unlike the calm of Wednesday afternoon. Around 2:00 p.m., a crowd of protesters holding the green and red Palestinian liberation flag chanted “Holloway is a tyrant” in the center of what protesters call the Gaza Solidarity Camp.

Members of the AAUP teachers union were nearby in support.

“We are upset to see an artificial deadline being imposed on what could be fruitful negotiations,” said Bryan Sacks, president of the AAUP Adjunct Professors Union. “President Holloway has spoken about the value of what students are doing and the rights they have to freedom of speech and assembly. I hope the administration reconsiders this.

“I want to emphasize that the collective that took this action wants to continue negotiating,” Sacks said, noting that the attached union was not part of the protest itself, but was there to support students’ rights to freedom of assembly.

A speaker speaking to the camp told them that negotiations were continuing at 2:30 pm with Francine Conway, chancellor of the Rutgers New Brunswick campus. There were about a dozen police officers near the camp and several police cars parked nearby.