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America’s Colleges Are Reaping What They Sowed

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  s  •  3 weeks ago  •  3 comments

America’s Colleges Are Reaping What They Sowed
Universities spent years saying that activism is not just welcome but encouraged on their campuses. Students took them at their word.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


Patrick wilson, a sophomore   at Cornell University, came to Ithaca, New York, to refine his skills as an activist. Attracted by both Cornell’s labor-relations school and the university’s history of campus radicalism, he wrote his application essay about his involvement with a Democratic Socialists of America campaign to pass the   Protecting the Right to Organize Act . When he arrived on campus, he witnessed any number of signs that Cornell shared his commitment to not just activism but also militant protest, taking note of a plaque commemorating the armed occupation of Willard Straight Hall in 1969.

Cornell positively romanticizes that event: The university library has published a “ Willard Straight Hall Occupation Study Guide ,” and the office of the dean of students once co-sponsored a   panel   on the protest. The school has repeatedly   screened   a documentary about the occupation,   Agents of Change . The school’s official newspaper, published by the university media-relations office,   ran a series of articles   honoring the 40th anniversary, in 2009, and in 2019, Cornell held a   yearlong celebration   for the 50th, complete with a commemorative walk, a dedication ceremony, and a   public conversation   with some of the occupiers. “ Occupation Anniversary Inspires Continued Progress ,” the   Cornell Chronicle   headline read.

As Wilson has discovered firsthand, however, the school’s hagiographical odes to prior protests has not prevented it from cracking down on pro-Palestine protests in the present. Now that he has been suspended for the very thing he told Cornell he came there to learn how to do—radical political organizing—he is left reflecting on the school’s hypocrisies. That the theme of this school year at Cornell is   “Freedom of Expression”   adds a layer of grim humor to the affair.

University leaders are in a bind. “These protests are really dynamic situations that can change from minute to minute,” Stephen Solomon, who teaches First Amendment law and is the director of NYU’s First Amendment Watch—an organization devoted to free speech—told me. “But the obligation of universities is to make the distinction between speech protected by the First Amendment and speech that is not.” Some of the speech and tactics protesters are employing may not be protected under the First Amendment, while much of it plainly is. The challenge universities are confronting is not just the law but also their own rhetoric. Many universities at the center of the ongoing police crackdowns have long sought to portray themselves as bastions of activism and free thought. Cornell is one of many universities that champion their legacy of student activism when convenient, only to bring the hammer down on present-day activists when it’s not. The same colleges that appeal to students such as Wilson by promoting opportunities for engagement and activism are now suspending them. And they’re calling the cops.


The police activity we are seeing universities level against their own students does not just scuff the carefully cultivated progressive reputations of elite private universities such as Columbia, Emory University, and NYU, or the equally manicured free-speech bona fides of red-state public schools such as Indiana University and the University of Texas at Austin. It also exposes what these universities have become in the 21st century. Administrators have spent much of the recent past recruiting social-justice-minded students and faculty to their campuses under the implicit, and often explicit, promise that activism is not just welcome but encouraged. Now the leaders of those universities are shocked to find that their charges and employees believed them. And rather than try to understand their role in cultivating this morass, the Ivory Tower’s bigwigs have decided to apply their boot heels to the throats of those under their care.

I spoke with   30 students, professors, and administrators from eight schools—a mix of public and private institutions across the United States—to get a sense of the disconnect between these institutions’ marketing of activism and their treatment of protesters. A number of people asked to remain anonymous. Some were untenured faculty or administrators concerned about repercussions from, or for, their institutions. Others were directly involved in organizing protests and were wary of being harassed. Several incoming students I spoke with were worried about being punished by their school before they even arrived. Despite a variety of ideological commitments and often conflicting views on the protests, many of those I interviewed were “shocked but not surprised”—a phrase that came up time and again—by the hypocrisy exhibited by the universities with which they were affiliated. (I reached out to Columbia, NYU, Cornell, and Emory for comment on the disconnect between their championing of past protests and their crackdowns on the current protesters. Representatives from Columbia, Cornell, and Emory pointed me to previous public statements. NYU did not respond.)




The sense that Columbia trades on the legacy of the Vietnam protests that rocked campus in 1968 was widespread among the students I spoke with. Indeed, the university honors its activist past both directly and indirectly, through library archives , an  online exhibit , an official “Columbia 1968”  X account , no shortage of  anniversary   articles  in Columbia Magazine, and a  current course  titled simply “Columbia 1968.” The university is sometimes referred to by alumni and aspirants as the “Protest Ivy.” One incoming student told me that he applied to the school in part because of  an admissions page  that prominently listed community organizers and activists among its “distinguished alumni.”




Joseph Slaughter, an English professor and the executive director of Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, talked with his class about the 1968 protests after the recent arrests at the school. He said his students felt that the university had actively marketed its history to them. “Many, many, many of them said they were sold the story of 1968 as part of coming to Columbia,” he told me. “They talked about it as what the university presents to them as the long history and tradition of student activism. They described it as part of the brand.”

This message reaches students before they take their first college class. As pro-Palestine demonstrations began to raise tensions on campus last month, administrators were keen to cast these protests as part of Columbia’s proud culture of student activism. The aforementioned high-school senior who had been impressed by Columbia’s activist alumni attended the university’s admitted-students weekend just days before the April 18 NYPD roundup. During the event, the student said, an admissions official warned attendees that they may experience “disruptions” during their visit, but boasted that these were simply part of the school’s “long and robust history of student protest.”


Remarkably, after more than 100 students were arrested on the order of Columbia President Minouche Shafik—in which she overruled a unanimous vote by the university senate’s executive committee   not to bring the NYPD to campus —university administrators were still pushing this message to new students and parents. An email sent on April 19 informed incoming students that “demonstration, political activism, and deep respect for freedom of expression have long been part of the fabric of our campus.” Another email sent on April 20 again promoted Columbia’s tradition of activism, protest, and support of free speech. “This can sometimes create moments of tension,” the email read, “but the rich dialogue and debate that accompany this tradition is central to our educational experience.”

Another student who attended a different event for admitted students, this one on April 21, said that every administrator she heard speak paid lip service to the school’s long history of protest. Her own feelings about the pro-Palestine protests were mixed—she said she believes that a genocide is happening in Gaza and also that some elements of the protest are plainly anti-Semitic—but her feelings about Columbia’s decision to involve the police were unambiguous. “It’s reprehensible but exactly what an Ivy League institution would do in this situation. I don’t know why everyone is shocked,” she said, adding: “It makes me terrified to go there.”

Beth Massey, a veteran activist who participated in the 1968 protests, told me with a laugh, “They might want to tell us they’re progressive, but they’re doing the business of the ruling class.” She was not surprised by the harsh response to the current student encampment or by the fact that it lit the fuse on a nationwide protest movement. Massey had been drawn to the radical reputation of Columbia’s sister school, Barnard College, as an open-minded teenager from the segregated South: “I actually wanted to go to Barnard because they had a history of progressive struggle that had happened going all the way back into the ’40s.” And the barn-burning history that appealed to Massey in the late 1960s has continued to attract contemporary students, albeit with one key difference: Today, that radical history has become part of the way that Barnard and Columbia sell their $60,000-plus annual tuition.

Of course, Columbia is not alone. The same trends have also prevailed at NYU, which likes to crow about its own radical history and promises contemporary students “ a world of activism opportunities .” An   article   published on the university’s website in March—titled “Make a Difference Through Activism at NYU”—promises students “myriad chances to put your activism into action.” The article points to campus institutions that “provide students with resources and opportunities to spark activism and change both on campus and beyond.” The six years I spent as a graduate student at NYU gave me plenty of reasons to be cynical about the university and taught me to view all of this empty activism prattle as white noise. But even I was astounded to see a video of students and faculty set upon by the NYPD, arrested at the behest of President Linda Mills.

“Across the board, there is a heightened awareness of hypocrisy,” Mohamad Bazzi, a journalism professor at NYU, told me, noting that faculty were acutely conscious of the gap between the institution’s intensive commitment to DEI and the police crackdown. The university has recently made several “cluster hires”—centered on   activism-oriented themes   such as anti-racism, social justice, and indigeneity—that helped diversify the faculty. Some of those recent hires were among the people who spent a night zip-tied in a jail cell, arrested for the exact kind of activism that had made them attractive to NYU in the first place. And it wasn’t just faculty. The law students I spoke with were especially acerbic. After honing her activism skills at her undergraduate institution—another university that recently saw a violent police response to pro-Palestine protests—one law student said she came to NYU because she was drawn to its progressive reputation and its high percentage of prison-abolitionist faculty. This irony was not lost on her as the police descended on the encampment.

After Columbia students were arrested on April 18, students at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study decided to cancel a planned art festival and instead use the time to make sandwiches as jail support for their detained uptown peers. The school took photos of the students layering cold cuts on bread and posted it to Gallatin’s official Instagram. These posts not only failed to mention that the students were working in support of the pro-Palestine protesters; the caption—“making sandwiches for those in need”—implied that the undergrads might be preparing meals for, say, the homeless.

The contradictions on display at Cornell, Columbia, and NYU are not limited to the state of New York. The police response at Emory, another university that   brags   about its   tradition   of student protest, was among the most disturbing I have seen. Faculty members I spoke with at the Atlanta school, including two who had been arrested—the philosophy professor Noëlle McAfee and the English and Indigenous-studies professor Emil’ Keme—recounted harrowing scenes: a student being knocked down, an elderly woman struggling to breathe after tear-gas exposure, a colleague with welts from rubber bullets. These images sharply contrast with the university’s progressive mythmaking, a process that was in place even before 2020’s “summer of racial reckoning” sent universities scrambling to shore up their activist credentials.

In 2018, Emory’s Campus Life office partnered with students and a design studio to begin work on   an exhibit   celebrating the university’s   history   of identity-based activism. Then, not long after George Floyd’s murder, the university’s library released a series of   blog posts   focusing on topics including “Black Student Activism at Emory,” “Protests and Movements,” “Voting Rights and Public Policy,” and “Authors and Artists as Activists.” That same year, the university announced its new   Arts and Social Justice Fellows   initiative, a program that “brings Atlanta artists into Emory classrooms to help students translate their learning into creative activism in the name of social justice.” In 2021, the university put on an exhibit   celebrating its 1969 protests , in which “Black students marched, demonstrated, picketed, and ‘rapped’ on those institutions affecting the lives of workers and students at Emory.” Like Cornell’s and Columbia’s, Emory’s protests seem to age like fine wine: It takes half a century before the institution begins enjoying them.

N early every person   I talked with believed that their universities’ responses were driven by donors, alumni, politicians, or some combination thereof. They did not believe that they were grounded in serious or reasonable concerns about the physical safety of students; in fact, most felt strongly that introducing police into the equation had made things far more dangerous for both pro-Palestine protesters and pro-Israel counterprotesters. Jeremi Suri, a historian at UT Austin—who told me he is not politically aligned with the protesters—recalls pleading with both the dean of students and the mounted state troopers to call off the charge. “It was like the Russian army had come onto campus,” Suri mused. “I was out there for 45 minutes to an hour. I’m very sensitive to anti-Semitism. Nothing anti-Semitic was said.” He added: “There was no reason not to let them shout until their voices went out.”

As one experienced senior administrator at a major research university told me, the conflagration we are witnessing shows how little many university presidents understand either their campus communities or the young people who populate them. “When I saw what Columbia was doing, my immediate thought was:   They have not thought about day two ,” he said, laughing. “If you confront an 18-year-old activist, they don’t back down. They double down.” That’s what happened in 1968, and it’s happening again now. Early Tuesday morning, Columbia students occupied Hamilton Hall—the site of the 1968 occupation, which they rechristened Hind’s Hall in honor of   a 6-year-old Palestinian girl   killed in Gaza—in response to the university’s draconian handling of the protests. They explicitly tied these events to the university’s past, calling out its hypocrisy on Instagram: “This escalation is in line with the historical student movements of 1968 … which Columbia repressed then and celebrates today.” The university, for its part, responded now as it did then: Late on Tuesday, the NYPD swarmed the campus in an overnight raid that led to the arrest of dozens of students.

The students, professors, and administrators I’ve spoken with in recent days have made clear that this hypocrisy has not gone unnoticed and that the crackdown isn’t working, but making things worse. The campus resistance has expanded to include faculty and students who were originally more ambivalent about the protests and, in a number of cases, who support Israel. They are disturbed by what they rightly see as violations of free expression, the erosion of faculty governance, and the overreach of administrators. Above all, they’re fed up with the incandescent hypocrisy of institutions, hoisted with their own progressive petards, as the unstoppable force of years’ worth of self-righteous rhetoric and pseudo-radical posturing meets the immovable object of students who took them at their word.

In another video   published   by   The Cornell Daily Sun , recorded only hours after he was suspended, Nick Wilson explained to a crowd of student protesters what had brought him to the school. “In high school, I discovered my passion, which was community organizing for a better world. I told Cornell University that’s why I wanted to be here,” he said, referencing his college essay. Then he paused for emphasis, looking around as his peers began to cheer. “And those fuckers admitted me.”


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Sean Treacy
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Sean Treacy    3 weeks ago

Yet again, left wing institutions are stunned by the foreseeable consequences of their own actions. Like everything else, they assumed that only sanctioned and approved "protests" would take place.  They believed in a Potemkin world where "oppressed" students protested on behalf of causes the campus  elites supported and they could put on rebellious performances that left everyone feeling they'd struck a blow against the man, even though "the man" supported the whole production.  The leader of the Columbia protest expecting  the University to keep the rioters supplied and comfortable during the illegal takeover of a university building shows how cooperative these protests have become. 

That some students would eventually protest on behalf of causes  that didn't always align with campus leadership should have been evident from the jump.  But just as when you remove filibusters, claim elections were  stolen, claim character doesn't matter in Presidents, etc.,, everyone takes notice and what was against the norms suddenly becomes acceptable. When Evergreen State  was forced a decade ago by protesting students  to fire a Professor for criticizing students for missing school, alarms bells should have gone off.   You can't remove all constraints from the inmates give them power and expect the asylum to function. But universities doubled down on their commitment to grievance. Ivy league schools offered admission to a student whose entire admission essay consisted of writing "black lives matter" over and over.  

Now here we are, with universities reaping what they've sown and having no idea what to do other other than, in most cases, surrender to the mob.  

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
2  Sparty On    3 weeks ago

You lie down with dogs

You get up with fleas

 
 
 
Right To Bear Memes
Freshman Silent
3  Right To Bear Memes    3 weeks ago

Watching useful idiots protesting in lock step with purveyors of hate has been an eye opener. America has a Nazi problem and looks like 1930's Germany!

 
 

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