Talks stall between pro-Palestinian protesters, UW-Madison leaders

Students say multiple attempts to engage in conversation have been ignored by campus leaders

A man holds a sign that says "Free" with the Palestinian flag.
A pro-Palestinian protest takes place Monday, April 29, 2024, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Negotiations between leaders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and students involved in pro-Palestinian demonstrations have broken down.

Student protesters have occupied an encampment on Library Mall for the last 10 days and have said they won’t leave until their demands are met. Those demands include the University of Wisconsin Foundation divesting from all Israeli institutions and Israel-aligned companies.

Students are also asking the university to call for a ceasefire of the Israel-Hamas war, to stop the “large-scale acquisition of land” around campus and for the complete removal of police officers from university grounds.

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A statement from campus leaders Wednesday said they’re open to further discussions but are “deeply disappointed by the outcome.”

Campus leaders said there are no plans to have law enforcement take action to remove the encampment. But students have been warned they will be disciplined if commencement ceremonies on Friday and Saturday are interrupted. 

Vignesh Ramachandran is a graduate student and spokesperson for the protesters. He said UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin hasn’t given serious consideration to any of the students’ demands.

“After 30 minutes today, we walked out because the administration repeatedly refused to engage with what student and faculty negotiators were saying,” Ramachandran said. “We are still willing to participate in good faith conversations, but they have refused to engage after multiple attempts in moving forward.”

Two UW-Madison police officers stand near the outdoor protest demonstration.
UW-Madison police officers watch the pro-Palestenian demonstration in the Library Mall on Monday, April 29, 2024, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Ramachandran said administrators have failed to provide feedback on student proposals.

“We have come time and time again to the meeting with prepared proposals on how to move forward concretely,” Ramachandran said. “And the administration has come to these meetings unprepared without having read our statements or without having read our proposals.”

On Tuesday, Mnookin offered student protesters a meeting with UW Foundation decision-makers to emphasize the importance of listening to their concerns. She also offered students an opportunity to participate in shared governance. 

“We understand that separate from your specific demands there are concerns about the experiences of Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students, faculty and staff on our campus,” a proposed resolution to protesters read. “If you have specific ideas to offer now, we would be glad to consider them. With or without those specific ideas, we commit to working on this important issue for you, your fellow students, and our entire community.”

The proposal from UW leaders would require students to take down the encampment by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Mnookin has said the encampment poses a safety risk, and on Wednesday, campus police announced they are investigating three separate reports of violence on Library Mall since the encampment went up.

Keith Woodward, geography professor at UW-Madison, speaks at a walkout as part of the pro-Palestinian encampment at Library Mall on May 6, 2024. Angela Major/WPR