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Monday, January 29, 2024

Swarthmore, whatever comes after redux

My kid did not particularly like Swarthmore during the campus visit, so I feel ok enjoying the media-and-podcast tour by Wesleyan's president while criticizing the statements from Swarthmore's president.

That said, in response to Steve, I did not intend to criticize Smith for condemning "river to sea" or "jihadist" as part of a call for civility. (Although I am suspicious of many calls for civility, which can be vague and perverted into content-based suppression of (often) less-powerful speech on the pretext of a content-neutral concept such as civility). My point (which I did not frame well) is that she shifted within that paragraph--from explaining what is and is not protected to what she dislikes to a call for civility. And that confused her message.

And that said, Suzanna Sherry emails with a different criticism of Smith's statement (email quoted with Suzanna's permission):

Whatever the merits of Smith’s general points, I find this bit (emphasis mine) very telling about her own sympathies (which she should not be broadcasting in such a statement):

        For instance, chanting “from the river to the sea” is heard by many as antisemitic and a direct threat against Jews.             Referring to Arabs or Muslims as “terrorists” or “jihadists” is Islamophobic and anti-Arab. Such rhetoric is simply                 unacceptable and I condemn it.

The difference between “heard by many” and “is” suggests (a) that the Hamas chant is not antisemitic but merely heard as such; and (b) that the “such rhetoric” in the third sentence refers only to the Islamophobic/anti-Arab statements and thus that “river to the sea” is not unacceptable and she does notcondemn it. The referent in the third sentence is ambiguous – it could include both the previous sentences or only the one immediately preceding it – and my point is that the difference in phrasing between the first two sentences tells us which she means.

There may be a response to that; I leave it to Steve to make it, if he chooses.

One more thing I did like in Smith's letter: Although the school allowed the sit-in to continue last semester and will not do the same with future sit-ins, those who engaged in last semester's actions may be receiving notices of conduct violations. University leaders, including the Stefanik Three, have been under fire, in part, for discovering protection for offensive speech only when it targeted Jews (Jeannie Gersen notes this criticism). I initially read Smith as saying last semester's sitters would receive a pass while putting those who engage in future civil disobedience on notice that they will be removed from the space and sanctioned--which would potentially have replayed that criticism by protecting the pro-Palestine/anti-Israel group and sanctioning future pro-Israel protesters. Rather, her point was that the sitters were not stopped in the moment but may face consequences.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 29, 2024 at 11:00 AM in First Amendment, Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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