Photo credit: Getty Images; Leontura

How should university presidents respond to campus protests?

Those of us who attended university in the late 1960s recall the disruptive campus protests across the U.S. demanding the end of the war in Vietnam. Those protests, however, didn’t threaten or intimidate students because of their ethnicity or religion, as is the case with the current increasingly violent campus protests across the U.S. against Israel in support of the Palestinians.  

There is an overabundance of incidents where Jewish students have faced intimidation and have been harassed, threatened and, in some cases, attacked by protestors. Jewish students at many colleges and universities have reported they are fearful. They no longer feel safe or welcomed on campus. 

American Jewish students do not impact Israeli policies, so why are they targeted? The reason is antisemitism. Some protestors are calling for an intifada. Some protestors chant, “We are Hamas,” which is a designated terrorist organization. Protestors claim that they are not antisemitic, just anti-Zionist. Tell that to the American Jewish students who have been harassed, threatened and intimidated. University administrators have failed in their responsibility to Jewish students.

At George Washington University, a protestor carried an outrageous sign that advocated for the “final solution,” referring to the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews.

Many campuses are in a state of chaos. Protestors, many of whom are being influenced by outside agitators, demand that their university cease academic partnerships with Israeli universities and sever economic ties with Israeli companies. Protestors on some campuses have also demanded that their university cut ties with local law enforcement, among other demands.

New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry posted on X (formerly known as Twitter), “There is an underlying radical indoctrination of some of these students. Vulnerable and young people are being influenced by professional agitators. Who is funding and leading this movement?” A May 3 Wall Street Journal article is headlined, “Activist groups trained students for months before campus protests.”

Photo credit: Getty Images; Leontura

Let me be clear. People have the right to peacefully protest, a right protected by the First Amendment of our Constitution. They do not have the right to intimidate or threaten violence against Jewish students. To Jews who have watched Israel defend herself since its founding in 1947, the slogan, From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” means only one thing: The eradication of the state of Israel.

Students who are not protesting also have rights. They have the right not to have their ability to attend class disrupted by protestors who have taken over campus buildings. 

U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights is investigating a growing list of colleges and universities where alleged acts of antisemitism have taken place as possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

The students who are protesting need to understand that, depending on the severity, a violation of a university regulation becomes part of the student’s record. Being arrested creates a public record. This record is uncovered during the vetting process before an employer decides whether to hire a candidate. 

An April 28 AP News article is headlined, “College protestors seek amnesty to keep arrest and suspensions from trailing them.” They need to understand that their actions have consequences. My advice to student protestors—don’t violate university regulations or violate the law. It may adversely impact your employment prospects.

Regardless of how protesting faculty or students feel, they need to understand that free speech that could incite violence, whether it be in the form of threatening words or actions, never trumps the safety of all students. Never. 

So, how should university presidents respond? 

Many university presidents are now following the advice of Robert P. George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program on American Ideals and Institutions. On April 24, Professor George posted the following on X

“We honor freedom of speech and therefore do not impose and will not impose viewpoint-based restrictions on speech. We will, for the sake of protecting everyone’s rights to teach and learn, strictly and evenhandedly (that is, in a viewpoint-neutral way) enforce the university’s time, place, and manner regulations. 

“Conduct in deliberate violation of these regulations will subject students, faculty, and staff to disciplinary proceedings. Willful violation of the regulations in defiance of a demand by university authorities or police to cease and desist will be grounds for permanent expulsion or exclusion from the university, as will violence of any kind, obstruction, disruption of classes and other university activities, destruction of property, intimidation, threats, and harassment. 

“Due process in disciplinary proceedings will be strictly observed, with those subject to the proceedings afforded the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof being clear and convincing evidence. We reserve the right to refer criminal violations to civil authorities.”

I agree with the approach outlined by Professor George. College presidents need to take back their campuses.

Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at

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