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US universities crack down on Palestine protests

Unruly, sometimes illegal, behavior has been a hallmark of campus life. Credit :Getty

April 12, 2024 - 7:30pm

After months of campus protests over the war in Gaza, universities are doing something unusual: penalising students for illegal or rule-breaking demonstrations.

This week, during a student dinner at the personal home of the Berkeley Law School’s dean, a group of students protested the school’s supposed funding of weapons used in Gaza and refused to leave, despite it being a private residence. The dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, promised that any other students who disrupted events at his home would be reported to the institution and to the Bar, a penalty that can potentially prevent one from becoming a lawyer.

A few weeks earlier, Vanderbilt University students forcefully entered a building and held a sit-in at the chancellor’s office, demanding the school divest from Israel. Several students were suspended or placed on probation, while the school plans to expel and charge three of them with a misdemeanour for shoving a staff member to gain entry to the building.

Unruly, sometimes illegal, demonstrations have been a hallmark of American campus life for years. Administrations have usually tolerated these activities. But the latest rounds of protests appear to have crossed a line: they’re more openly adversarial towards the universities and hostile toward staff. Recently, for example, a student group circulated an illustration of the Berkeley Law dean holding a blood-soaked knife and fork over a plate, an image shared by the school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Meanwhile, Columbia University brought disciplinary actions including multiple suspensions against students who held a panel the school had explicitly barred on grounds that speakers were “known to support terrorism and promote violence”. When students at Brown University occupied a building to demand the school divest from Israel in December, 41 were arrested. Another 20 had been arrested for a similar event weeks earlier.

In addition, American University placed Students for Justice in Palestine on disciplinary probation after its members held an indoor protest in violation of campus rules earlier this year. When 20 students stormed and occupied the president’s office at Pomona College last week, the police got involved, and 20 students were arrested and charged.

Illegal campus protests of the early Trump years often involved physically blocking students from entering events featuring conservative speakers, and administrations would at times cave to the heckler’s veto by cancelling such events, citing security concerns.

Trump-era campus deplatforming attempts, recorded by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, peaked at 177 annually in 2018 and have since declined to around 60 per year. But since the war in Gaza began in October, attempted and successful deplatformings have risen sharply. In 2024 so far there have been 68 instances, 48 of which were related to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Whereas past protests disrupted conservative speech, the latest round disrupts campus life more generally. The coming months may reveal whether suspensions and arrests will deter students from protesting.


is UnHerd’s US correspondent.

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Daniel P
Daniel P
1 month ago

About time and probably too late.

This should have been done years ago.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
1 month ago

At least its something. Perhaps the treat of a Republican congressional investigation or better (or worse depending on your perspective) a Trump Presidency in 2025 who will use the schools tolerance of intolerance to investigate them, and perhaps cut their funding and or cut funding for student loans and aid.

Penny Rose
Penny Rose
1 month ago

I worry about what’s happening here but –
it’s always worse in America.

Stephen Feldman
Stephen Feldman
1 month ago
Reply to  Penny Rose

Actually nothing worse than UK.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
1 month ago

Yes, it’s rough over here in the Mother Country, although admittedly, our government isn’t trying to imprison and/or bankrupt the Leader of His Majesty’s Opposition.

Will Liley
Will Liley
1 month ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

Damon, if you’re referring to Trump, wait for the jury verdicts. My own prediction: he will go down on all four trials (though the NY trial beginning today is a stretch). Even Bill Barr, his lapdog Attorney-General, said he’s gone on the Florida secret documents case. The Georgia “just find me 11,134 votes” case is a slam-dunk for Fani Willis, especially when argued as a RICO trial. The January 6th case depends on whether you believe he sent them to the Capitol. Do you?

J Bryant
J Bryant
1 month ago

Any sign of universities cracking down on similar tactics used to suppress conservative points of view?

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
1 month ago

These protests are organized and financed by various chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. I wonder where they get all their money, flags, etc. and their protest organizers.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Roman

Qatar.

Graham Bennett
Graham Bennett
1 month ago

The problem is that the vast majority of the bureaucratic and administrative classes in Western universities are cut from the same cloth as these ‘activist’ students, and are right behind them. I couldn’t imagine this kind of protest being stopped at my university, unless Chinese students (the pay masters) began to complain about it. Perhaps that’s why these protesters avoid live teaching and classroom scenarios, knowing it will be their demise. But they certainly get away with no platforming and generally disruptive behaviour and harassment.

Nancy G
Nancy G
1 month ago

What subjects are these students studying? Probably not STEM or medicine; they’d be too busy doing what students are at university to do and wouldn’t have time for these protests.

Stephen Feldman
Stephen Feldman
1 month ago

Students and persons injured directly by threats and blockades need to sue each and every time assembly and speech rights attacked. Immplead the colleges, trustees, bureaucrats and students who caused the assault on rights and breaking of campus rules. Contribute to public interest groups fighting wokist censorship.

T Redd
T Redd
1 month ago

Yes, should have been done long ago but the staff at schools are afraid to use child raising techniques with immature college kids…like logical consequences and “time outs”….Most of the USA college kids do not even know where Israel is on a real paper map…..a bunch of spoiled kids getting free money and wasting it on liberal degrees

Andrew Holmes
Andrew Holmes
1 month ago

In Seattle, a group of about fifty descended on the Interstate, blocking it. The loudest mouth in the group verbally celebrated the fact that none were arrested, stating that if enough people got together no one would ever suffer consequences. Rioters’ logic is generally proven correct.