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Police surrounding a protester during arrest with tents in the background

Armed officers arrest a protester at the University of Virginia Saturday.

Eze Amos/Getty Images

Last week’s intense tumult over the war in Gaza quieted a bit over the weekend, as numerous colleges and universities shifted into commencement mode and kept a tight rein on their physical campuses to try to minimize the opportunity for conflict.

Not every place succeeded.

Several institutions—the Universities of Virginia and of Southern California, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—called in reinforcements from law enforcement to break up protest encampments they declared to violate their policies or local laws.

And the combustible mix of Middle East politics and graduation ceremonies resulted in conflict at other institutions, leading to protests at two Midwestern universities and canceled commencement speakers at the University of Vermont and Dickinson College.

University of Southern California Clears Encampment

Officials at USC said Sunday morning that its public safety department, with the help of the Los Angeles Police Department, had cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment in the center of campus in the pre-dawn hours.

The Los Angeles Times reported that officers in riot gear cleared the encampment with no arrests made and no apparent violence. University and law-enforcement officials gave protesters several warnings and chances to leave before they began pushing the remaining protesters toward a campus entrance.

Officers then dismantled the encampment, which had reappeared about two weeks after USC officials ordered a previous encampment to be taken down.

President Carol Folt said in a message to the campus Sunday that things had quieted down between the previous protest and Saturday, when “the occupation [began] spiraling in a dangerous direction … Areas of campus were blocked, people walking down Trousdale, … university property was stolen, and commencement structures were dismantled.”

When “outside agitators jumped the [campus] perimeter fencing and assaulted our officers” Saturday, Folt said, “This had to stop,” leading her to call in the Los Angeles Police Department.

USC’s protesters promised on social media that they “will be back.”

State Troopers Arrest 25 at University of Virginia

University of Virginia officials ordered state police to clear a protest encampment Saturday morning, with news reports indicating that officers used “chemical irritants” at one point.

Twenty-five protesters were arrested; it was not clear how many of them were affiliated with the university.

The Virginian-Pilot reported that a crowd of students chanted “Shame on you, shame on you!” as law enforcement officials moved the protesters off the campus and onto the street. They insisted that the protests had been nonviolent.

UVA president James Ryan said the protest had been peaceful, but that that changed Saturday.

When campus officers’ “attempts to resolve the situation were met with physical confrontation and attempted assault, it became necessary to rely on assistance from the Virginia State Police,” Ryan wrote.

“This repeated and intentional refusal to comply with reasonable rules intended to secure the safety, operations and rights of the entire university community left us with no other choice than to uphold the neutral application and enforcement of those rules,” Ryan said.

68 Arrests at School of the Art Institute of Chicago

At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, police officers arrested dozens of people, including some students, as they cleared a pro-Palestinian encampment from a garden near the campus’s downtown entrance on Saturday.

Chicago police said that they had negotiated with the protesters for two hours, and officials at the Art Institute said they had offered an alternative site for the protest to continue, with “amnesty from academic sanction and trespassing charges if they agreed to relocate,” according to NBC Chicago. But the protesters declined, news reports said.

After several warnings to disperse, according to the police, they cleared the area, and those who remained were arrested. Officials put the total number of arrests at 68.

Speaker Canceled at the University of Vermont …

The University of Vermont announced that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would not be speaking at its graduation ceremony and that it had begun conduct proceedings for some student protesters.

In a message to the campus community on Friday, President Suresh Garimella said, “It is with regret that I share that our planned speaker, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, will not be joining us to deliver the Commencement address.”

Students had said that the institution’s choice of Thomas-Greenfield to address graduates and receive an honorary degree was “insulting,” citing her three-time veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The university’s provost and senior vice president, Patricia Prelock, agreed last week to bring their concerns to other administrators as part of ongoing negotiations with protesters who have staged an encampment on campus. The university also disclosed its endowment investments in response to protesters’ divestment demands.

Addressing the protesters in his email, Garimella told students “I see you and hear you.”

He added, however, that demonstrations on the school’s Andrew Harris Commons were in violation of university policies. “Those who continue to violate UVM policies do so intentionally despite having been given the opportunity to express themselves within campus rules,” he said. “Therefore, regrettably appropriate student conduct processes have been initiated for those who have persistently violated university policy.”

 … and Dickinson College

A week ago, an op-ed in the student newspaper at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania urged campus leaders to reconsider the choice of Michael Smerconish as the main speaker at its May 15 commencement. The essay argued that the CNN commentator's comments in a 2004 book supporting racial profiling of Arab-Americans because they "look like terrorists" made him a poor choice.

“If Dickinson truly loves and values its students, shouldn’t it honor them with someone who reflects that love?” the piece argued.

President John Jones originally defended the selection of Smerconish, who he said he “has known for many years.”

But as opposition from students mounted, Jones announced Saturday that he had reconsidered—especially after Smerconish largely doubled down on his 2004 comments on a recent show.

“It has become clear that our selected speaker, Michael Smerconish, faced overwhelming opposition from our faculty and students, particularly after recent comments he made,” Jones wrote. “As a result, with the support of our Board of Trustees, I have decided to rescind the honorary degree and invitation to speak at Commencement.”

He added: “It is important to remember that this particular class lost their high school graduations in 2020 due to COVID-19 and had the start of their college experience interrupted. We want this commencement to be the most uplifting, memorable, and student-centered event for those graduating and for our community.”

Disruptions at Michigan and Indiana

Graduation ceremonies elsewhere were disrupted over the weekend, including at the University of Michigan on Saturday, where a group of about 50 graduating students stood up and called for the institution to disclose and divest in companies with ties to Israel. The protesters were met with cheers and boos from the crowd but commencement speeches continued uninterrupted, according to The Detroit News.

Meanwhile, as the Indiana University Bloomington’s graduation ceremony got under way, a plane circled overhead trailed by a Palestinian flag and the words “let Gaza live” according to reports from Fox 59.

Boos were heard during President Pamela Whitten’s speech and some students walked out of the commencement ceremony, marching through campus with caps, gowns and bullhorns.

In Pictures: Campus Protests

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