Hundreds of faculty members at Columbia University in New York held a mass walkout on Monday to protest against the president’s decision to have police arrest students at a pro-Palestinian encampment protest last week.

The solidarity protest came as students put protest tents back up on campus. They had been torn down last week when the New York police department arrested more than 100 students, who were also suspended by the university.

Bassam Khawaja, an adjunct lecturer at Columbia law school and supervising attorney at the school’s human rights clinic, said he was “shocked and appalled that the president went immediately to the New York police department”.

“It didn’t seem like any kind of measures were taken to de-escalate,” Khawaja said. “It also just seems completely unnecessary. This was by all accounts, a non-violent protest. It was a group of students camping out on the lawn in the middle of campus. It’s not any different from everyday life on campus.”

As Columbia announced it would be holding classes remotely, students on campuses across the US launched their own protests. At Yale University in Connecticut, police arrested more than 40 pro-Palestinian protesters, according to the student newspaper, the Yale Daily News.

Students have called for their universities to back a ceasefire in Gaza and divest from companies with ties to Israel.

On Monday, Columbia’s president, Nemat Minouche Shafik, said that school leaders would be convening to discuss the “crisis”, NBC News reported.

Shafik also claimed that antisemitic language and intimidating and harassing behavior towards Jewish students had taken place on campus recently: “The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days. These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas … We need a reset.”

Student demonstrators, including Jewish students, have denied accusations that their protests are antisemitic, blaming “inflammatory individuals who do not represent us” and describing the protests as peaceful and inclusive.

“We firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry and stand vigilant against non-students attempting to disrupt the solidarity being forged amount students – Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Black, and pro-Palestinian classmates and colleagues who represent the full diversity of our country,” read a statement from student organizers posted to Instagram.

The Columbia and Barnard chapters of the American Association of University Professors decried Shafik’s crackdowns on protests in a statement on Friday, saying: “We are shocked at her failure to mount any defense of the free inquiry central to the educational mission of a university.”

Journalism professor Helen Benedict, who was on campus when the NYPD began arresting students, said in an interview that sending “riot police with guns pulled onto campus” was an “overreaction”.

NYU faculty and students protest on Monday. Photograph: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty Images

“There’s been a huge miscalculation, [at] every step,” Benedict said. “The safety of the campus for our students has been violated and the students are actually made less safe by this … This is a learning environment in which students learn to debate disagreement and have to learn sometimes to be made uncomfortable, and that instead of punishing that, we should be mediating and teaching from it so that students can learn from it.”

On Monday, long lines formed outside the gates of Columbia as students had to wait to get their IDs scanned at security checkpoints. Some faculty members were at the gates advocating for reporters who had been denied entry.

The protests have prompted national attention, with political leaders of both parties condemning university leadership.

In Virginia, Joe Biden denounced antisemitism on college campuses in a statement marking Passover, which begins on Monday.

He said: “This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country.”

Speaking before Biden at the Virginia event, the progressive New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reference the campus demonstrations in her remarks, saying: “It is especially important that we remember the power of young people shaping this country today of all days.”

One of the suspended students at Columbia was Isra Hirsi, the daughter of the Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Omar, of Minnesota, and her fellow progressive Rashida Tlaib of Michigan also condemned punishments against Hirsi and other student protesters, the Hill reported.

Omar said university protests were being “co-opted and made to look bad so police and public leaders would shut them down”, similar to other movements in the past: “The Columbia protesters have made clear their demands and want their school not to be complacent in the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Public officials and media making this about anything else are inflaming the situation and need to bring calmness and sanity back.”

The New York governor Kathy Hochul convened a meeting with Columbia administrators, city officials and police on Monday, and a group of Jewish House Democrats also met Jewish students.

“While the leadership of Columbia may be failing you, we will not,” Josh Gottheimer, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, said during a press conference on campus. If Columbia fails to keep Jewish students safe, Gottheimer warned that the university’s leadership would “pay the price”.

Congressman Dan Goldman, a New York Democrat, said what Jewish students told him they had witnessed was “unacceptable at an academic institution of learning”.

Other US colleges and universities have announced extreme measures to punish students who participate in peaceful protests supporting Palestine.

The University of Michigan announced it would draft new rules to punish disruptive behavior after students held a protest during the university’s convocation ceremony on Sunday.

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Emerson College, both in the Boston area, have started encampment protests inspired by the demonstration at Columbia. Videos on X showed students at New York University in Manhattan erecting a new encampment on their campus, and at the University of North Carolina.

NYU’s office of Global Campus Safety ordered students to clear their encampments by 4pm on Monday after officials allegedly witnessed “disorderly, disruptive and antagonizing behavior” as additional protesters attempted to participate in the demonstrations.

“You will need to clear the plaza by 4.00pm. If you leave now, no one will face any consequences for today’s actions – no discipline, no police,” according to a post to X from the university. Mass arrests began around 8.30pm, local time.

Prahlad Iyengar, an MIT graduate student studying electrical engineering, was among about two dozen students who set up an encampment of more than a dozen tents on campus on Sunday evening to call for a ceasefire and to protest what they describe as MIT’s “complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza”.

“MIT has not even called for a ceasefire, and that’s a demand we have for sure,” he said.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

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