Student Editorial Boards Rebuke College Officials for Protest Decisions

As protests over the Israel-Hamas war have erupted at U.S. universities in recent months, student journalists have been reporting daily on campus debates over free speech, university investments and America’s involvement in the conflict.

Some student newspapers’ editorial boards have offered assessments of their campus disputes. They have opined on how administrators are responding to protesters and defended the rights of students to speak out. They have been particularly vocal about the threats of harassment and doxxing, which they have argued were stifling free speech on campus.

Here are a few of the editorials that have been written by student newspapers in the last couple of weeks as tensions have escalated at several campuses.

The editorial board at the Columbia Daily Spectator published an editorial just hours after Nemat Shafik, the university president, called the police onto campus last week to empty an encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. More than 100 students were arrested, causing an uproar among the school community.

In the strongly worded editorial, published on April 18 and titled “Is Columbia in crisis?”, the students on the editorial board wrote that the school administration had “failed to genuinely engage with its students, faculty, and staff,” and that the university was slowly becoming a “space of distrust, suppression, and fear.”

By inviting the New York Police Department onto the campus, and allowing the police to arrest over 100 students, Dr. Shafik, who goes by Minouche, had disrupted campus life and infringed “on her supposedly paramount principle of safety,” the board wrote.

The board also criticized the administration for its congressional testimony last week before the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce: “Shafik and her fellow administrators were all too willing to succumb to pressure from representatives, essentially conflating pro-Palestinian campus activism with antisemitism and repeatedly condemning the words and actions of both students and faculty to appease committee members.”

Speaking directly to school officials, the editorial board added: “You must confront your failure to fulfill your duty of protecting and representing your students and their concerns. Otherwise, you will further marginalize, endanger, and distance your students, indefinitely trapping Columbia in its self-inflicted crisis.”

The Michigan Daily’s editorial board this month discussed the rising tensions on campus as school officials tried to clamp down on pro-Palestinian protests and calls for divestment from Israel.

In March, about 100 student protesters at Michigan disrupted a university event and protested the school’s investment in companies they said were profiting from Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. The police in Ann Arbor, Mich., cited three students, according to The Michigan Daily.

A few days later, the university president, Santa Ono, along with the Board of Regents, released a draft of a Disruptive Activity Policy, which restricted activities that disrupted the “free flow of persons about campus” or university operations.

In an editorial, “Santa Ono, don’t silence student voices,” The Michigan Daily board wrote that the “campus is becoming a pressure cooker” and that “the more the University clamps down on student voices, the louder and more impassioned they will become.”

The editorial board of The Cornell Daily Sun last week endorsed calls for Cornell to divest from arms manufacturers directly involved in the Israel-Hamas war.

“The Sun wholeheartedly endorses the pro-side of both questions and joins the call for Cornell University to divest from arms manufacturers directly involved in what the International Court of Justice has called a ‘plausible’ genocide,” the editorial board wrote. “Cornell should in no way support a war that has been waged with callous disregard for civilian lives.”

“It’s time for Cornell to lead the way, call for a cease-fire and pull our money out of investments in potential war crimes,” it added.

The Harvard Crimson reported on Monday that the Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, a student organization, had been suspended for the rest of the spring term after the group held a rally on Friday to support the protesters at Columbia. The university said the group ran afoul of campus protest guidelines.

On Tuesday, the Crimson’s editorial board denounced that decision.

“On a campus where, from the start, administrators did too little too late to protect pro-Palestinian speech, this feels like suppression,” the editorial board wrote. “Whatever the impetus, the decision will be taken as a paranoid response to events at Columbia and elsewhere.”

“Student groups aren’t above the rules. But the rules aren’t above the good of this campus. Harvard must choose the latter,” it added.

Administrators at the University of Southern California drew national attention on April 16 when they canceled the graduation speech of this year’s valedictorian. The student, Asna Tabassum, had faced criticism from two campus groups because she had expressed pro-Palestinian views on social media. The school said that the decision was driven by security concerns related to “the intensity of feelings” over the conflict in the Middle East.

Three days later, the editorial board of The Daily Trojan, the student newspaper, demanded that Ms. Tabassum be allowed to speak.

The board wrote: “As USC boasts of its Arab American Heritage Month celebrations, the decision to select a Muslim student as valedictorian should be a testament to the University’s commitment to equity. But as soon as that student was found to have a view that was not palatable to some, the University’s efforts proved to be performative.”

A few paragraphs later, the board wrote: “The University claims it is not breaking any laws or guidelines by preventing Tabassum from speaking, but it is committing an act possibly even more egregious: breaking students’ trust. After failing to stand by Tabassum as she faced online vitriol and instead caving to the interests of those perpetuating that hate, it’s clear the University does not support even its best students if the decision could cause a stir.”

“That the University would deny its highest-performing student a time-honored tradition out of fear she may speak up calls into question the integrity of the education we all chose to pursue here.”

On Sunday, the editorial board at the Daily Bruin, the student newspaper at the University of California, Los Angeles, also rebuked the cancellation of Ms. Tabassum’s commencement speech.

“The decision to characterize Tabassum’s valedictorian speech as a threat to public safety is an overreach on behalf of the administration,” the editorial board wrote. “Even if safety were to be a legitimate concern for USC, deploying the necessary security force at commencement should not be an issue.”

“For the administration to censor Tabassum in order to prevent any tensions from arising during commencement only puts the university in murky waters,” the board added. “The safety concern is nothing more than the anticipation of hecklers over Tabassum’s stance on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, citing a pro-Palestinian link on Tabassum’s social media.”

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