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HomeWorldRepression or compromise, which way will US universities go?

Repression or compromise, which way will US universities go?

Pro-Palestinian students protest at George Washington University in Washington, April 25. Photo: Reuters

The police appeared in teams last Saturday at Northeastern University in Boston, USA. According to them, they have received orders to remove outsiders from among those who are protesting in the campus premises against the Israeli war in Gaza. Over a hundred protesters were arrested within an hour. Not only outsiders, students were also arrested. Many of the tents where the students were protesting were demolished.

After that, a large-scale counter-protest against the police started on the university campus. The state police officers started picking up anyone who was suspected. In this, both sides took opposite positions at the scene and a chaotic situation was created.

Northeastern campus administration officials said tensions were rising due to the participation of outsiders in the protests. So they were forced to call the police. Demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic slogans. However, the protesters denied the allegations.

Northeastern is one of the US universities that have decided to crack down on anti-Israel protesters. They also rejected the demands of the protesting students to stop investment in companies associated with the Israeli army.

New York’s Columbia University authorities started taking the first action against the students who pitched tents on the university campus. The protesters were demolishing their tents claiming that they were harassing and intimidating many university students. Since then, the demands of the protestors have not been met, but a number of students have been expelled.

Police position on the Columbia University campus in New York, USA Photo: Reuters

The authorities threatened to expel the protesting students after they occupied a building of the university on Tuesday. The police raided the place on Tuesday night at the request of the university authorities to evict the protesting students.

Despite the tension between the two sides at Columbia University, some US university administrations have shown that conflict, chaos and tension can be avoided if desired.

A similar picture was seen at Northwestern University. The picture of handling protests at Northwestern University near Chicago State is quite different than at Northeastern University. Protests started there from last Thursday morning. Soon after the protest started, the university administration banned the pitching of tents and deployed police on the campus. However, they did not call the state police. No one was arrested. The campus police officials have also gradually left there.

The university administration announced a settlement agreement last Monday. It said that if the protesters removed their tents and restricted the protest to students and university officials, they would be allowed to stay there until the end of classes on June 1.

The university’s authorities have not fully agreed to stop investing in Israeli companies and arms manufacturers. However, they said, their investment committee will start working anew to increase transparency in investment.

Northwestern also pledged funding for two Palestinian teachers and five Palestinian students.

There has been a compromise, at least for now.

Northwestern and Northeastern are both private companies. Both institutions are located in two left wing states. So the question arises as to why there is a difference in handling the same situation.

University of New Orleans historian Lauren LaSabe Sheppard said the level of violence in the pro-Palestinian protests did not reach the level of violent anti-war protests of the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, some students protested demanding the resignation of the US government.

According to Lauren LaSabe Shepard, this time the situation was made worse by the police being called in from off campus to deal with the protests in some cases.

Shepard said almost every university in the United States has campus police. They are clothiers and are engaged full-time on campus. They have powers of arrest. There, calling in members of the municipal police or National Guard is considered a high-risk response strategy.

Last week, Emory University professors in Atlanta were also arrested by city and state police. Among them is Noel McAfee, chairperson of the university’s philosophy department.

McAfee told the BBC the protests were peaceful. The protesters became angry only after the police started taking action against them.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested at universities across the US. In some institutions, the situation was again managed without the intervention of law enforcement agencies.

As at Northwestern, a compromise was reached between protesters and university administration at Brown University on Tuesday. Both sides agreed to hold a referendum to cut ties with arms manufacturers.

A student holds a Palestinian flag during an anti-Israel protest. Los Angeles, California, April 25. Photo: Reuters

In the 1960s, the University of California, Berkeley campus was the focus of protests. This time there is a protest going on with a tent, but it is going on quite peacefully and smoothly.

Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University in Tennessee, said some administrators are taking risky steps because of political pressure from various quarters, including high-level members of Congress. In some cases, the opposite result is obtained.

Paulson also said that college presidents are constantly trying to show Congress and the world that they are tough enough to be college presidents. And it reminds me of the late 60s. Legislators then threatened college presidents, saying they failed to deal with anti-war protesting students.

According to Paulson, the pressure on the leaders of private universities is great. Because publicly funded universities are obligated to ensure the protection of students according to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. But it is not necessary to ensure the right of free speech in private universities. That is why they cannot tell the legislators, their hands and feet are tied according to the constitution, that they cannot do anything.

However, according to Paulson, this time of the protest situation is now in favor of the administration of the universities.

Because, most of the students did not participate in the protest and they are trying to get through the academic year with ease. Still, the protests could have an impact on graduation ceremonies. Some universities have already canceled or are considering canceling graduation ceremonies.

University of New Orleans historian Lauren LaSabbe Shepard said based on the history of movements in US universities, there is going to be a massive movement in the next week or two until the end of the spring semester.