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Some classes at Drexel University to return to "normal operations" Tuesday amid pro-Palestinian protest encampment

Some Drexel classes will return to in-person learning Tuesday as pro-Palestinian protest continues
Some Drexel classes will return to in-person learning Tuesday as pro-Palestinian protest continues 02:51

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Drexel University's president has announced a plan for a "phased return to normal operations" amid a pro-Palestinian protest on campus. 

University president John Fry said in a letter Monday evening that labs, studio classes and simulation classes will return to in-person learning Tuesday while lecture classes remain virtual. Nonessential personnel will work remotely on Tuesday, too, but faculty and staff for labs and studio classes will return to work in person, in addition to some researchers.

All classes were remote on Monday.

In the letter, Fry again called for the protesters to disband the encampment. 

"While reportedly peaceful and respectful of passersby for long stretches of time, this demonstration already has proved extensively disruptive to normal operations," he wrote.

"In any event, it is paramount that the encampment is removed so that every member of our community is free to move safely across the campus without threat of intimidation or harassment," he said. 

Drexel University's president has announced a plan for a "phased return to normal operations" amid a pro-Palestinian protest on campus.   

Fry did not detail what the next steps will be if the encampment is not removed voluntarily but noted that the university has "the right to impose restrictions" on demonstrations and "to take action against illegal trespassing."

He also claimed again that protesters have subjected passersby to "antisemitic speech."

In a statement on Sunday, Fry said they have opened a line of communication with protesters. CBS News Philadelphia reached out to Drexel officials to see how they plan to remove demonstrators from campus but did not receive a response.

Following Fry's statement on Monday, the Drexel Palestine Coalition claimed Fry has "not made a single attempt to contact the encampment directly or extend a line of communication" with protesters. 

"We are disappointed in President Fry's unwillingness to negotiate in good faith in order to meet the encampment demands," the Drexel Palestine Coalition wrote in a statement. "We are summarily disappointed in his lack of acknowledgement of the Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism, and anti-Arab racism exhibited by Zionist agitators and counter protestors, which create a hostile environment for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim people and their allies. Drexel University purports itself to be committed to becoming the most civically engaged university in the United States. An open line of dialogue is critical to the university acting in accordance with its own standards." 

Despite Fry calling for the encampment to end, the Drexel Palestine Coalition said the protest will remain and hopes to negotiate with the university about its demands. 

"We remain steadfast in our demands. We demand that Drexel University divest from all companies, organizations, weapons manufacturers and partnerships that actively participate in the colonization, occupation, and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people," the Drexel Palestine Coalition wrote in part.   

It was unclear as of Monday how many of the protesters at the encampment were Drexel students. 

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner was at Drexel on Monday night and spoke with some protestors. 

"My job is to do two things – one is to uphold the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment, but it is also to persevere public safety," Krasner said.  

Protest reaches third day, leaving students frustrated

Drexel University students trickled up to the barricades around Korman Quad Monday, looking to get a glimpse at the pro-Palestinian encampment that now occupies the area. 

"It's kind of the talk of the entire campus right now," sophomore Alex Sagolla said.

Protesters arrived on the University City campus Saturday night and have held down the spot since. Things were quiet in the area on Monday. Protesters mostly sat around the 20 or so tents that have popped up in grassy areas. Around them were barricades, shutting off the area, surrounded by officers from the Drexel and Philadelphia Police Departments.

On Sunday, Fry announced the school would move classes online and lock down buildings on campus "to minimize the possibility of further disruptions, including attempts by protesters to occupy our learning and working spaces."

Students told CBS News Philadelphia they're already feeling that impact.

"Our dorms, it's like very high security right now. They have to take our ID and manually put it in," freshman Kristen Walsh said.

"The gym is closed, the dining hall, it's crazy," Julia Sponzo, a freshman at Drexel, said. 

The changes for students also come as the university winds down its semester. Graduation is set for June 14, and students say the lockdowns and shift online are affecting their last-minute work.

"They need the computers and the resources in that building to do their homework. And a lot of my friends can't get in to do their homework," Sponzo said.

"The one class, we had student presentations that aren't going to take place today. So yeah, you're starting to feel that effect," junior Max Lewenthal said.

Drexel University school buildings on lockdown as pro-Palestinian encampment takes over campus 02:16

Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity on campus, said they arrived at the encampment in hopes of speaking to protestors, but it didn't go as planned. 

"We don't want any crazy shenanigans," Morris Dweck, a Drexel student, said. "We were peaceful. We wanted to talk to them and hear their side, but they don't want to."

This is the latest in a series of pro-Palestinian protests that have bogged down campus life at universities across the country, including an encampment at neighboring Penn that led to 33 arrests earlier in May. 

Students say they know the university is in a tough position.

"I think they're doing it well, locking everything down to prevent what happened with other incidents across the country. But it's kind of frustrating," junior Henry Stefan said. 

Students said Monday they hope they will see a return to normal sooner rather than later.

"I would rather see it shut down so that way I can get to class. This is a pretty public area people go through a lot, so it'd be nice to see it get shut down," Sagolla said.

"A lot of people are really frustrated because they're paying to be here for the resources of this university, and they can't have access to those," Sponzo said.

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