Sunday, May 19

NY congressman tells Columbia he wants to give students graduation ‘they deserve’ after canceled commencement

Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y., penned a letter to Columbia President Minouche Shafik on Wednesday, asking for a list of graduating students from his district so that he can organize for them “the graduation ceremony they deserve” after the Ivy League school canceled its main commencement ceremony. 

D’Esposito said he finds it “appalling that Columbia University students have been deprived of their commencement ceremony,” noting how, for some, “graduating from higher education is the pinnacle of their life thus far – an important milestone celebrated by family, friends and loved ones.” 

Many of the college seniors this May missed out on their high school graduation ceremonies four years ago in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These students have worked extremely hard, invested a tremendous amount of money, and succeeded in meeting requirements to proudly graduate,” the letter obtained by Fox News Digital said. “Your inability to maintain order on campus, keep students safe and end hate-filled violence has led to this.” 

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D’Esposito asked that Shafik “provide a list of students who call New York’s Fourth Congressional District home, and I will work with community leaders and partners in government to provide them with the graduation ceremony they deserve.” 

“Leadership at Columbia has failed these students,” he added. “We won’t fail them as well.” 

Columbia University announced on Monday that it has canceled its university-wide commencement ceremony because of disruptions caused by recent anti-Israel protests. Students will still be able to celebrate at a series of smaller, school-based graduation ceremonies this week and next. Those ceremonies will take place about 5 miles north of campus at Columbia’s sports complex, officials said.

Demonstrations began nearly three weeks ago at the Ivy League university in New York City. It has since swept college campuses nationwide, with more than 2,500 people arrested overall, the Associated Press estimated. 

The university’s large graduation ceremony was scheduled for May 15 on the college’s main lawn in Manhattan, which is where a protest encampment was based until authorities dismantled it last week. University officials said the past few weeks have been “incredibly difficult” for the community, and that they decided to cancel the ceremony after discussing it with students.

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Shafik on May 1 issued a statement justifying her 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.” The university president was grilled before Congress about soaring antisemitism at the Ivy League school last month, and the next day, she allowed police onto campus to arrest over 100 people. 

But as anti-Israel demonstrations escalated and police noted that “outside agitators” came with the intent of escalating the situation, Shafik for several days opted to keep police off the school’sprivate property. On May 1, she acknowledged how “academic leaders spent eight days engaging over long hours in serious dialogue in good faith with protest representatives,” and 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.” 

“It is going to take time to heal, but I know we can do that together,” Shafik wrote. 

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“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,” she added. “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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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