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‘Leave’: Uni’s ultimatum to protesters

Written by on May 20, 2024

An Australian university has delivered an ultimatum for pro-Palestine protesters occupying one of their buildings to pack up and leave, or face copping the bill for damages and police intervention.

Staff at the University of Melbourne have formally demanded the sit-in protesters, who have taken over a large building at the Parkville campus, stop their protest amid complaints of classes being disrupted.

In a letter to the encampment, the university’s vice-chancellor warns of police intervention and expulsion if they do not vacate.

More than 6000 students have had classes disrupted since the group began protesting nearly four weeks ago.

The student group Unimelb for Palestine have been leading the protest, calling for the university to cut ties with weapons manufacturers; the university says it has worked with Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon on non-weapons related research, and says all projects comply with ethics, integrity and Defence rules and codes.

Protesters moved into the Arts West building last week and have vowed not to leave, leading to condemnation from university staff.

This move has led to the university issuing formal warnings on Monday.

A letter “authorised” by the vice-chancellor says emergency exits, fire panels and firefighting equipment are obstructed or damaged.

“The University directs all persons occupying the Arts West building to leave the University’s grounds and remove all personal property from the building,” it says in the letter, which was taped to walls at the university on Monday.

“Any person who contravenes this direction will be trespassing on University grounds and may be referred to Victoria Police.”

Students who do not comply could have their enrolment terminated or sanctioned in other ways, and be required to pay costs to repair damages, the letter warns.

Footage from inside the building recorded on Monday morning shows a warning to vacate is being played over the speaker system, though the settlement seems mostly empty.

The University of Melbourne is one of at least 12 Australian universities to where protest activity against the war in the Gaza Strip is taking place.

Senior staff at La Trobe, Deakin and the Australian National Universities issued formal directives for encampments to wind up late last week.

Demonstrations on the University of Sydney campus have caused some staff to feel unsafe, with Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott speaking about the encampment on 2GB on Monday morning.

He said anyone who did not want to see or hear the encampment could find another way to walk to class.

“There is an encampment, and it embodies debate and discussion and free speech and protest that’s always been part of university life,” Mr Scott told Ben Fordham’s radio program.

“I suppose I would say to them I’m sorry that they feel upset that encampment is there; It is a big university, it’s a very large university and it’s very possible to work your way around the university and not be confronted by the encampment.”

Mr Scott said he would not “go down the United States route” of trying to clear out the camps, which triggered “terrible violence”.

Ugly scene broke out at Ivy League Columbia University in New York on April 30 and at the University of California, Los Angeles some 24 hours later.

More than 1000 people were arrested at US universities in similar circumstances across late April and early May.

“Police in riot gear on campuses, an unleashing of destruction of property, and widespread anti-Semitism: We’ve had nothing like that here,” Mr Scott said.

The Vice-Chancellor did however apologise to a director of European studies professor, whose class was interrupted by purported pro-Palestine protesters.

Peter Morgan a professor at the university, said he was “shaken” and his students felt intimidated when the lecture was “hijacked” by several masked pro-Palestinian protesters

Melbourne students have reported anti-Semitism had risen since the October 7 Hamas attack and subsequent escalations of violence and humanitarian issues in Gaza.

The Australasian Union of Jewish Students held a rally at the University of Melbourne earlier this month, saying Jews on campus were being singled out, intimidated and pressured to declare their political allegiances.

About 30 Jewish ralliers walked up the campus for a tense but peaceful stand-off with the pro-Palestinian group.

Read related topics:Melbourne