Drexel threatens to clear encampment as arrests linked to campus protests exceed 3K nationwide

President Fry said in a statement Monday night that he had authorized 'all necessary steps to clear the encampment safely.'

Tuesday, May 21, 2024
Drexel president authorizes 'all necessary steps' to clear encampment
Drexel president authorizes 'all necessary steps' to clear encampment

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Drexel University in Philadelphia has threatened to clear an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters as arrests linked to campus demonstrations against the Israel-Hamas war surpassed the 3,000 mark nationwide.

Drexel President John Fry said the encampment had disrupted campus life and "cannot be allowed to remain in place." Fry called on protesters to leave immediately but said in a statement Monday night that he had authorized "all necessary steps to clear the encampment safely." He did not say when that might happen.

Classes at Drexel were held virtually on Monday as police kept watch over the demonstration on the school's Korman Quad. Many Drexel employees were told to work from home.

A day later, Drexel started a "phased return" to normal operations, with labs and some other classes to be held in person and lecture classes to stay remote.

The university says it will also continue virtual operations for all nonessential personnel

On Tuesday, Fry said the protesters refused to meet with members of the university administration.

At Drexel, which has about 22,000 students, Fry said protesters "have created a hostile, confrontational environment by subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech and by issuing several 'demands' that have unacceptably targeted individual members of our faculty and professional staff" as well as Jewish groups on campus. He previously threatened disciplinary action against Drexel students participating in the protest.

Fry expressed frustration and the need for more time, saying in a statement, "Based on our assessment of all the circumstances surrounding this encampment and the incendiary demands issued by the Drexel Palestine Coalition on Instagram, I have regrettably determined that we need additional time to resolve the situation so we can safely resume all in-person activities."

The Drexel protesters' demands ranged from the university administration calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and divesting from companies that do business with Israel, to abolition of the Drexel police department and termination of the school's chapter of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, and another Jewish campus group, Chabad.

The Drexel Palestine Coalition had no immediate response to Fry's ultimatum. The protest organizers said on Instagram in response to an earlier statement from Fry that "it is slander to accuse the encampment of 'hateful' or 'intimidating' actions when we have done neither." The group accused Drexel and city police of harassment and intimidation. A pro-Palestinian group of faculty and staff also blasted Fry on Monday for shuttering campus facilities and said the encampment was "not disruptive to learning."

A pro-Palestinian protester, who wished not to be identified, says he and his colleagues are disheartened by Fry's call for this encampment to be disbanded.

We also spoke with Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro who says he agrees with the stance taken by Drexel officials.

"The president has called for it to be disbanded at Drexel. I know he is working with the city of Philadelphia, and I hope it will be disbanded soon," said Shapiro.

The governor, who is Jewish, says he is all for a spirited debate, but he objects to any use of antisemitic phrases and messages.

"When you attack someone based on what they look like, where they come from, who they love, or who they pray to just because of that particular characteristic, it makes everyone of us less safe," said Shapiro.

Students and others have set up tent encampments on campuses around the country to press colleges to cut financial ties with Israel. Tensions over the war have been high on campuses since the fall but demonstrations spread quickly following an April 18 police crackdown on an encampment at Columbia University.

RELATED: Pro-Palestinian protests sweep university campuses in Pennsylvania, nationwide

More than 3,000 people have been arrested on U.S. campuses over the past month. Campuses have been calmer recently, with fewer arrests, as students leave for summer break. Still, colleges have been vigilant for disruptions to commencement ceremonies.

Elsewhere, graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, went on strike Monday as part of a rolling, systemwide protest over how administrators have responded to pro-Palestinian encampments, including arrests of protesters at the Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine campuses.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, meanwhile, declined to charge four University of Pennsylvania protesters who were among 19 arrested Friday night, citing a lack of evidence submitted by campus police. Krasner's office approved misdemeanor charges against three others. The remaining 12 arrested Friday night were given citations for failing to disperse.

RELATED: Penn's interim president warns pro-Palestinian protesters to disband encampment immediately

Penn's main commencement ceremony was held Monday under tightened security and a ban on flags and signs. There were no disruptions.

But dozens of students walked out of Yale University's commencement ceremony, some waving Palestinian flags. Yale said in a prepared statement that "a number of graduating students chose to peacefully walk out during the ceremony. University staff helped guide these individuals to an area outside the event space, and the ceremony continued as scheduled."

Wesleyan University in Connecticut said it had reached agreement with student protesters to review possible divestment, with meetings scheduled for later this month and in the fall. Wesleyan President Michael Roth announced the deal over the weekend and disclosed that 1.7% of Wesleyan's endowment was invested in aerospace and defense businesses, but that none were directly involved in the manufacture of weapons.

As part of the agreement, Wesleyan protesters cleared their encampment on Monday, according to a school spokesperson.

The Associated Press has recorded at least 82 incidents since April 18 where arrests were made at campus protests across the U.S. At least 3,025 people have been arrested on the campuses of 61 colleges and universities. The figures are based on AP reporting and statements from universities and law enforcement agencies.

The latest Israel-Hamas war began when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking an additional 250 hostage. Palestinian militants still hold about 100 captives, while Israel's military has killed more than 35,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which doesn't distinguish between civilians and combatants.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.