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Wednesday, May 01, 2024

A bunch of random stuff about campus protests

Some random thoughts, partly reacting to what other people have said:

Orin Kerr said on Twitter that the current protest wave reflects the first time that campus protests have targeted issues about which there is sharp disagreement. Some consensus surrounded the issues at heart of prior protests--anti-war(s), nukes, apartheid, climate change. No large pro-nuke or pro-apartheid constituency sought to oppose or counter-protest, even if not everyone shared protesters' passion or engagement on the issues. But the rules of campus protest--including allowing protesters leeway in occupying campus spaces and otherwise allowing violations of neutral regulations--developed around those prior issues. Those rules do not work when that consensus disappears.

    Expanding on Orin's thought: Not only is the topic divisive and disputed, but the protest target is intertwined with the identity of a significant campus group. All criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism is not antisemitic. But the former can (and has and does) bleed into the latter. At the very least, there is an affiliation--however strong or weak--between the target and a student group. And a  blockade that forces "Zionists" to use a different entrance to the library will disparately force Jewish student to use that different entrance. And even non-antisemitic anti-Zionism speaks to a segment of the campus--it appears that the protesters are protesting their colleagues, not the university as the "government" of that community. Of course, pro-Palestine students would say the same about pro-Israel speech--supporting the Israeli government is intertwined with the identity of Palestinian students with family in Gaza. All of which proves Orin's point (or my expansion of it). The expression (and counter-expression) at the heart of the current occupations cannot avoid appearing targeted at and critical of a segment of fellow students, rather than at the university or some outside-the-university problem.* I wonder if the rhetorical shift from demanding a ceasefire to demanding divestment (and at Northwestern, university representation for Palestinian students and teachers) reflects that realization--an attempt to make the university the protest target. It only goes so far, as the subject of divestment still targets a segment of the university community--"divest from the Jews." But I think they are trying.

[*] The Sympathizer is an excellent new show on Max, about a North Vietnamese double agent after the fall of Saigon. In the second episode, "The Captain" (the unnamed main character) meets an American who speaks with pride about protesting "in support" of The Captain and others; The Captain asks which Vietnamese people the guy believed he was supporting; the guy had no answer.

    Everything flows from that--congressional grandstanding, congressional arm-twisting, and the disproportionate university reactions in both directions, from Columbia's massive shows of force to UCLA essentially delegating access to protesters control of access to certain campus spaces. Universities could resist criticisms that they are "un-American" in allowing anti-war protests. They cannot resist criticisms (right or wrong) that they are antisemitic.

• Khymani James is the Columbia student who was barred from campus for making antisemitic statements (e.g., "Zionists don't deserve to live" and "Be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists" “I’ve never hurt anyone in my life, and I hope to keep it that way") and alternating between doubling down and apologizing. There are some questions about his academic standing and whether he has, despite the ban, been back on campus. Columbia is private. But does this rise to a true threat or harassment? Maybe the middle one, although it seems too general and non-directed. Not unlike the UC-Davis prof's comments about Zionist journalists. As always, Columbia is private so it can have a quicker disciplinary trigger than a public school might.

• Several law profs have noted the unique (if undeveloped) property theory at work: Protesters claim the right to camp and control spaces such as the quad because they are common spaces but then assert a right to exclude on ideological grounds. I wonder how the demand for food for those who paid for a meal plan fits into that property theory.

• Crim Law Folks: The linked-arm rings or lines that protesters use to move people out of spaces--is that assault and/or battery?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 1, 2024 at 09:36 AM in Howard Wasserman | Permalink


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