University theatens expulsion, police on pro-Palestine protesters as dramatic stand-off reaches fifth day

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
3 Min Read
More than 100 students took over the Arts West building at the University of Melbourne in a dramatic sit-in on Wednesday afternoon (May 15).
More than 100 students took over the Arts West building at the University of Melbourne in a dramatic sit-in on Wednesday afternoon (May 15). Credit: X/Twitter

The University of Melbourne has demanded pro-Palestine protesters occupying a department building to leave or face expulsion or police intervention for trespassing.

Activists have camped in the Arts West building — which they renamed Mahhmoud’s Hall in honour of a prospective student who was killed in Gaza — since Wednesday afternoon, calling for the university to disclose and divest its ties to weapon manufacturers linked to Israel.

On Monday morning, as the sit-in entered its fifth day, Vice-Chancellor Duncan Maskell “authorised” a final warning to protesters to pack up and leave, citing “safety and security” concerns of protesters, students and staff, and the campus itself.

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“The university must act in the interests of all persons using its premises. In recent days, actions associated with protests at the university have become increasingly disruptive and unsafe,” the statement reads.

“University property has been damaged and the Arts West building has been occupied.”

After an expert inspected the building on Friday, the university said protesters were found to obstruct emergency exits, fire panels, and fire-fighting equipment with their protest.

“As a result, the Arts West building is unfit for occupation and is closed for work, teaching and learning, and all associated activities. This is a significant disruption to normal university business.

“The university directs all persons occupying the Arts West building to leave the university’s grounds and to remove all personal property from the building.”

Student activists who fail to comply with the directions have been threatened with sanctions including being barred from classes and exams, restricted from accessing campus, or “termination of enrolment”. They may also be forced to pay to repair damages.

In a video posted to social media, a loudspeaker announcement reiterated the warning: “Any person who contravenes this direction will be trespassing on university grounds and may be referred to Victoria police.”

The encampment and the “associated safety issues” prompted the university to cancel 474 classes in the building since May 15, reportedly affecting more than 15,000 students.

The student protesters, UniMelb for Palestine, have rejected claims that they have damaged the building and say the sit-in is peaceful.

UniMelb for Palestine social media has shared images of wooden sleepers at entrances to the building, accusing the university of being “the only ones blocking doors, disabling elevators, and preventing the use of any emergency exits”.

Meanwhile, La Trobe University protesters have defied similar orders to dismantle their Palestine solidarity camp over safety, wellbeing and amenity concerns.

“Although the protests at La Trobe have been relatively peaceful and no classes have been interrupted to date, the university has considered the risks associated with the continued encampment activity,” it said.

La Trobe student organisers said their protest was peaceful and the university’s directive was part of a pattern of universities attempting to “crush pro-Palestine encampments”.

La Trobe Students for Palestine have instead organised a snap rally at the Bundoora campus on Monday as they continue to call for the university to cut ties with engineering conglomerate Honeywell and Israel.

It is the third Victorian institution, to order students to disband their solidarity encampment; Deakin University was the first in Australia to break ranks and issue the move-on order.


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