Students at Columbia University, defying a temporary restraining order barring them from blockading the entrance to a campus building, today continued their six-day-old protest of the school's South African investments.
On Monday, in what many students called a "major victory," a half-dozen protesters ended a 15-day hunger strike after meeting with university President Michael Sovern, who agreed to convey their concerns to a committee of trustees studying Columbia's investment policies.
"I fasted to make a statement; it's a very small sacrifice compared to what is going on in South Africa," said David Goldiner, a junior from New York. "I am cautiously hopeful. The amount of pressure that has built up against the university is very serious."
The protests began Thursday when about 300 students blockaded the main entrance of Hamilton Hall, a site of campus demonstrations in the 1960s.
The students are protesting Columbia's investments in South Africa, which is about $30 million of the university's $864 million endowment, according to school officials.
On Sunday, State Supreme Court Justice Harold Baer instructed the demonstrators to remove the chains and padlocks they have placed at the entrance to Hamilton Hall or face contempt of court charges.
A hearing on the restraining order is set for Wednesday, but the students have vowed to continue the protest until the trustees issue a statement announcing a divestiture of South African investments within three years.
"The university has read us the restraining order twice in an effort to scare us," said Rob Jones, a member of the Columbia Coalition for a Free South Africa, which has sought divestiture since 1981. "But we are saying, 'You can expel us, put us in jail; we are not going to leave until a statement to divest is issued.' "
University officials estimate that more than 2,000 students attend classes in Hamilton Hall daily.
In a letter addressed to the students, President Sovern said: "This intentional abuse of the rights of others is plainly prohibited by the rules of university conduct and is punishable by censure, suspension or expulsion."
Sovern added that other students would be charged as they are identified. The university has begun disciplinary proceedings against 35 students, and Sovern said others might be added to the list.
"Being expelled is a real possibility," said Whitney Thomas, a senior from Reston, Va., and president of the Black Students Organization. "We are willing to risk that."