Columbia president ‘sorry’ for canceled commencement amid anti-Israel protests, now faces ‘hard questions’

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik apologized to students on Wednesday after the university canceled the main university commencement in favor of smaller events over security concerns stemming from anti-Israel protests that overtook the campus in recent weeks.

Shafik wrote that she was “deeply sorry” to those graduating from the Ivy League institution in an op-ed published in the Columbia Daily Spectator.

“Canceling the traditional Commencement ceremony was one of the toughest calls in a year of many tough calls,” Shafik wrote. “I recognize the toll the past few months have taken on your university experience, and I want you to know that I am deeply sorry for the disappointment that many of you may be feeling as a result.” 

University officials announced last week that the university-wide commencement, which would have been held Wednesday, would be replaced with a series of smaller “class days” and school-level ceremonies over security concerns following a wave of antisemitic protests that resulted in more than 100 arrests.

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Shafik also acknowledged the “strain” that the anti-Israel protests put on the campus community, including its Jewish members.

Student protesters gather in protest inside their encampment on the Columbia University campus

“The conflict between the rights of pro-Palestinian protesters and the impact that their protests have had on some members of our Jewish community is what makes this moment singularly fraught,” Shafik wrote.

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Shafik wrote that she and other university leaders “must ask a series of hard questions” in the wake of the anti-Israel protests. 

Pro-Palestinian supporters rally outside Columbia University

“For instance, we know that virtually no one wants the police on our campus, including the police,” she wrote. “So, what are the options for agreeing on and enforcing our own norms and rules to make sure everyone is safe and can pursue their academic endeavors?”

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Shafik concluded by noting the difficult circumstances that this year’s graduating class has had to deal with, from the time they started to the time they finished.

“Your university experience was bookended by COVID-19 and conflict, which no doubt made you acutely aware of how events in the world affect our lives,” she wrote. “You are the future leaders of a world that has never needed you more.”

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