A Message from President Minouche Shafik

May 01, 2024

Dear members of the Columbia community,

Early Tuesday morning, tensions on our campus rose to new heights when a small group of protestors broke into Hamilton Hall, barricaded themselves inside, and occupied it throughout the day. This drastic escalation of many months of protest activity pushed the University to the brink, creating a disruptive environment for everyone and raising safety risks to an intolerable level.

I know I speak for many members of our community in saying that this turn of events has filled me with deep sadness. I am sorry we reached this point.

Over the last few months, we have been patient in tolerating unauthorized demonstrations, including the encampment. Our academic leaders spent eight days engaging over long hours in serious dialogue in good faith with protest representatives. I thank them for their tireless effort. The University offered to consider new proposals on divestment and shareholder activism, to review access to our dual degree programs and global centers, to reaffirm our commitment to free speech, and to launch educational and health programs in Gaza and the West Bank. Some other universities have achieved agreement on similar proposals. Our efforts to find a solution went into Tuesday evening, but regrettably, we were unable to come to resolution.

Because my first responsibility is safety, with the support of the University’s Trustees, I made the decision to ask the New York City Police Department to intervene to end the occupation of Hamilton Hall and dismantle the main encampment along with a new, smaller encampment. These actions were completed Tuesday night, and I thank the NYPD for their incredible professionalism and support.  

I also want to thank all of the many people, including faculty, staff, and especially our public safety officers and facilities workers, for their tireless efforts on behalf of Columbia and to support our students through this difficult period.

Columbia has a long and proud tradition of protest and activism on many important issues such as the Vietnam War, civil rights, and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Today’s protesters are also fighting for an important cause, for the rights of Palestinians and against the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza. They have many supporters in our community and have a right to express their views and engage in peaceful protest.

But students and outside activists breaking Hamilton Hall doors, mistreating our Public Safety officers and maintenance staff, and damaging property are acts of destruction, not political speech. Many students have also felt uncomfortable and unwelcome because of the disruption and antisemitic comments made by some individuals, especially in the protests that have persistently mobilized outside our gates.

It is going to take time to heal, but I know we can do that together. I hope that we can use the weeks ahead to restore calm, allow students to complete their academic work, and honor their achievements at Commencement. We also must continue with urgency our ongoing dialogue on the important issues that have been raised in recent months, especially the balance between free speech and discrimination and the role of a university in contributing to better outcomes in the Middle East. Both are topics where I hope Columbia can lead the way in new thinking that will make us the epicenter, not just of protests, but of solutions to the world’s problems.


Minouche Shafik
President, Columbia University in the City of New York