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Dismantling, detainments scuttle protest at Carolinas Polk Place Quad

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Trespassing into classroom buildings led the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to order an end to the protest encampment at the scenic Polk Place Quad.

The nation’s oldest public university, and flagship of the UNC System, had permitted pro-Palestinian protests. In a statement, the university said its policies were previously not violated but that changed on Sunday evening.

On Tuesday, some people were bound with zip ties and others held into an area under control of lawmen.

The university’s statement from interim Chancellor Dr. Lee Roberts and Provost Dr. Christopher Clemens read in part, “During events in recent weeks, the student demonstrators abided by our policies. That changed Sunday evening when protesters – including outside activists – backtracked on their commitment to comply with these policies, including trespassing into classroom buildings overnight.

“By 6 a.m. today the protesters assembled in Polk Place must remove all tents, tables, and other items and depart from the area. Failure to follow this order to disperse will result in consequences including possible arrest, suspension from campus and, ultimately, expulsion from the university, which may prevent students from graduating.”

The statement noted COVID-19 disrupting the high school graduation and first year at Carolina for many in this year’s graduating class. The university, founded Dec. 11, 1789, pledged a “joyous day” and celebration for the 229th commencement, and also said its actions before and after requiring the encampment be dismantled were consistent with previous demonstrations.

Graduation is Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend. Wednesday is reading day prior to exams beginning Thursday.

Protests are centered on the Middle East war between Hamas and Israel.

The university’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, reported two dozen tents on Polk Place on Friday night. The quad is in front of South Building, UNC’s administrative home. The encampment was the second in eight days, though the first on the previous Friday was done by mid-afternoon.

Protestors sought transparency on UNC investments; divesture from support of “Israeli genocide and full academic boycott”; and to work with students, faculty and staff to ensure university compliance.

The Center Square on April 22 reached out to UNC System President Peter Hans regarding tensions on campuses nationwide. He was asked about guidance to the 17 member institutions, if he had a comparison example to draw from in making decisions, and the need have classroom settings rather than shifting to online coursework has had happened the previous day at Columbia University in New York City.

Hans did not reply. Questions about guidance to faculty, staff and students, experience shaping guidance, and the need for classroom settings were also sent to presidents at private institutions Duke, Wake Forest, Davidson and Elon. None replied.

According to the website for Campus Safety magazine on Tuesday afternoon, protests about the war had impacted 48 campuses with demonstrations nationwide. UNC was the lone campus in North Carolina.