After three weeks of the ongoing encampment at King’s College Circle, the university has given the student protesters 24 hours to accept their latest offer and clear the encampment. 

For 22 days, the students have been calling on the university to disclose their financial holdings, divest from companies supplying the Israeli military, and cut ties with Israeli academic institutions. At 3:50 pm on May 23, U of T President Meric Gertler issued a statement addressing the student protesters’ demands. 

The statement comes nearly a month after a group of 50 students from Occupy for Palestine (O4P) — the encampment’s organizer — broke down part of the fence surrounding King’s College Circle and set up tents on May 2.

While O4P student representatives have now met with the university five times since the start of the encampment — which they refer to as the “People’s Circle for Palestine” — they have been unable to reach an agreement with the university on their demands.

U of T’s acknowledgement and offer

In the statement, Gertler acknowledged, “Given the duration of the encampment and the growing strain on our community, we now believe it is appropriate to share a summary of our offer, which has been submitted to representatives of the encampment for consideration within the next 24 hours.” 

He mentions that O4P student representatives will be invited to the Business Board of Governing Council meeting on June 19 to present their demands for the university to divest its financial investments with Israel. 

Gertler’s also proposed a new Advisory Committee to then review the divestment request under the terms and process of the University’s Policy on Social and Political Issues with Respect to University Divestment. The University will then form a working group to consider “options for disclosure and increased transparency related to the University’s investments.”

O4P will be able to put forward names of “qualified individuals” for membership to both the Advisory Committee as well as the working group. It may also submit recommendations to the President which will be consulted with stakeholders. 

The working group will be instructed to deliver its recommendations on investment disclosure by mid-July, and the Advisory Committee will issue a report and recommendation on divestment by the end of October.

No to “academic boycotts”

Gertler stated that U of T will not terminate its partnerships with Israeli universities or “attempt to curtail scholars’ academic freedom in any way.” 

“The University rejects calls for cutting ties with international partner institutions or engaging in academic boycotts because these actions would be at odds with our commitment to academic freedom,” wrote Gertler. 

Gertler added that since U of T’s approach is to “build bridges and expand partnerships,” it will continue having discussions to “increase opportunities” for Palestinian scholars.

“The encampment must end”

The statement expressed that the offer is conditional on the student protesters clearing the encampment, not resuming the encampment on any university campus, and refraining from disrupting Convocation activities.

“We will proceed with convocation no matter what,” said Gertler.

Gertler emphasized that “the encampment must end” and the university’s approach is based on its effort to “balance [its] shared values, people’s foundational rights and freedoms, and a desire for a peaceful resolution.” He also expressed hopes of the O4P representatives accepting the university’s offer. 

A tale of two press conferences

At 4:10 pm, Gertler held a press conference in his office at Simcoe Hall. 

A Campus Safety officer denied access to two Varsity reporters, who identified themselves as press, from entering the building to attend the conference. 

In an email to The Varsity, a university spokesperson stated that the conference was for “select media.” Later, a video of the press conference was made available to journalists, including those at The Varsity.

During the press conference, Gertler reiterated the university’s offer to the student protesters and mentioned that the offer is “fair and reasonable.”

He noted that if an agreement was not reached with the student protesters, the university would issue a notice of trespass and pursue “any subsequent legal steps.”

“The patience of our community is running thin,” said Gertler. “Many members of our community feel increasing distress by the presence of the encampment.” 

He noted that community members feel unsafe and have reported incidents of discrimination and harassment, as well as an estimated six incidents of hateful speech and hateful acts around the encampment.

When asked if the university would involve police to clear the encampment, Gertler said that the university is “pursuing all legal options available to us if or as necessary.”

“Unlike the administration, we are committed to a peaceful resolution and we are working on our response,” Yassin said.

He added that the university does not hold any “direct investments in individual companies.” Rather, alongside other investors, U of T invests its endowment funds in a group of companies. 

With Convocation beginning on June 3, Gertler explained that the university has “a lot of experience” in ensuring that the ceremonies take place “without interruption.” 

“We will proceed with convocation no matter what,” said Gertler. 

Almost two hours after Gertler issued the university’s offer, O4P spokesperson Mohammad Yassin spoke at a press conference outside of the encampment in front of Simcoe Hall. 

“Despite our willingness to negotiate, the U of T administration has consistently abused our trust,” he said. “This administration claims that they want to have this encampment come to a peaceful resolution, yet they attempt to blindside us at every turn.”

Yassin claimed that the administration had told the student protesters that they would not be calling the police over the weekend. 

However, he noted that the administration’s “threat of a trespass notice,” and the “lies that the [administration] spread about [the protesters], about hate speech… lay the groundwork for a violent clearing.”

He referred to the recent incidents at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, where their administrations called on police to remove student protesters from their encampments.


“Unlike the administration, we are committed to a peaceful resolution and we are working on our response,” Yassin said.

The Varsity reached out to the university for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. 

“We want real action”

At 6:40 pm, O4P recognized the university’s offer in an Instagram post, stating “we want real action” and that “UofT has still not agreed to our demands.”  

The post stated that over 200 faculty, staff, and honorary degree holders support the students’ demands, highlighting a few “well-known and highly acclaimed members” of U of T.

It also noted that O4P’s petition, which calls on the university to cut ties with Israel, has received over 31,500 signatures from U of T students, faculty, staff, and alumni.