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SAUNDERS: School’s out, and academia is due for a protest reckoning

Updated May 8, 2024 - 8:25 pm

WASHINGTON

The Columbia University Apartheid Divest coalition issued five demands: that Columbia divest assets that benefit from “Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine;” sever relations with Israeli universities; end “land grabs” whether in Harlem or Palestine; de-fund campus police; and release a statement calling for “an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.”

Which makes you wonder: Who put this crew in charge? It does not seem to occur to the protest community that such decisions are supposed to be the result of stakeholders pushing for change and officialdom wanting to accommodate them.

Not extortion.

College protests have spread beyond Columbia and Harvard to campuses across the country. And if a poll of 719 Columbia students, faculty and workers conducted by New York Magazine and the Columbia Daily Spectator is to be believed, 58 percent of those at Morningside Heights hope pro-Palestinian demands are met.

Hamas should be happy with American academia.

Me? I stand with Israel. I also agree that all students and faculty have a free-speech right to express opposing views. But they do not have a right to trespass on campus quads, and they do not have a right to keep students who want to learn from college classrooms.

As Steven McGuire of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ACTA, told me, “Most if not all of these encampments can and should be shut down on the basis of content-neutral policies.” He’s right.

So where do we go from here?

Fight hate speech with smart speech. Social media platforms have enabled critics to see just how twisted many of the woke pro-Hamas protesters are.

At George Washington University, a small group of students had a bullhorn dialogue about how great it would be to execute — actually behead — administrators. “To the guillotine,” they chanted, apparently undisturbed that they were aligning themselves with the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.

Columbia student Khymani James shared his negative views on Zionism on social media: “I don’t fight to injure or for there to be a winner or a loser, I fight to kill,” James wrote. James, who has apologized, has been barred from Columbia’s campus.

Good luck finding a good job if any of you actually graduate.

Last year, hedge fund CEO Bill Ackman called on fellow big shots not to hire students who blamed Israel, not Hamas, for the Oct. 7 terrorist attack that left more than 1,200 dead. It’s time the protest class realized that bad ideas and a general lack of judgment can have consequences.

Activists who broke laws — by damaging property or trespassing — should face serious consequences. They prevented students who wanted to learn in a classroom from a chance to do so. They also cost their institutions a lot of money. Their privileged status as students should not exempt them.

Anyone who’s involved in organizing or leading campus occupations, McGuire offered, “should receive some pretty significant discipline.” That could be a suspension, and in extreme cases “even expulsion.”

(I’d add clean-up duty. Make tent dwellers clean up after themselves.)

But McGuire cautioned, “I’d be surprised if we see consistent, strong follow-through,” because for too many years, administrators caved to chaos.

Now it’s time to grow up.

A previous version of this story incorrectly reported a poll’s results.

Contact Review-Journal Washington columnist Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow @debrajsaunders on X.

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