Update on Campus Protests

This morning, CNN released the podcast conversation I had with Audie Cornish about current events on American college campuses. We talk in its second half. Below, I have included the announcement I sent to the campus community today. 

Dear friends,

As the pro-Palestinian protests and encampment continues, we have seen students, faculty, and staff express their political views, have intense conversations, and call on the University to do more to help alleviate the suffering in Gaza. But we have also heard from students who have felt bullied by their teachers or fellow students, who are offended by attacks on their identities, or who object to the protesters’ taking over what is supposed to be public space. We have tried to address all these concerns, and, most of all, to maintain an environment free of violence and harassment. The protesters’ cause is important—bringing attention to the killing of innocent people. And we continue to make space for them to do so, as long as that space is not disruptive to campus operations.

In addition to the legitimate expression of political views, there have unfortunately also been acts of vandalism, which the University will not tolerate. The recent defacement of University property (including the back of Olin Memorial Library, Dennison Terrace, and the Center for the Arts) are serious violations of University rules and of the law. We will take all appropriate measures to hold those responsible accountable. To be clear, this may include suspension, expulsion, and legal charges.

We do not want to move in this direction unless necessary and much prefer to talk with protesters about things we can do as an institution to address the war in Gaza. Recent agreements at Brown University and Northwestern University might show the way. We have communicated with the protesters in order to find vehicles to address their concerns and hope for a positive response.


Michael S. Roth


18 thoughts on “Update on Campus Protests”

  1. It would be a very grave error to follow the pusillanimous examples of Northwestern and Brown. You would be capitulating to an outrageous and insatiable mob. This cause is really only a convenient occasion: we all know that it overlays much deeper and persistent hatreds, along with immense self-satisfaction and self-indulgence. Their identity is their enemy. Today it is Israel, but make no mistake: Israel is just the ‘little Satan.’ There will be other enemies tomorrow, as there were others before. That’s the inevitable dialectic. Don’t debase yourself or Wesleyan by cutting a deal with these people: you will never satisfy them, and the sophistry you will have to go through to try to save your self-respect won’t salve your conscience.

  2. A further thought: please don’t rationalize this protest as one against human suffering. There are wars underway in Ukraine (with much greater carnage), in Myanmar, and elsewhere; there are mass persecutions and pogroms of Christians in Nigeria and Uyghurs in Xinjiang. These occasion no similar protests.

    The protesters are not calling for an end to bloodshed and hostilities. They did not speak up on October 8th. What they want, instead, is military and political victory for Hamas; many want an end to the Zionist project and to Israel. Are they classically antisemitic? Some undoubtedly are, but most see Israel as a surrogate for a larger “settler colonialism,” which is to say, a surrogate for “white” Western civilization, which is the focus of their undying and irrational animus. Most will tell you this quite directly. This is a skirmish in that larger struggle, and it would be fundamentally disingenuous to assert that their motivation is to abridge human suffering.

  3. Concerning protests on campus. Please make every anticipatory effort to prevent some sort of issue with the graduation ceremony. The last thing I want to see is a ceremony for students and their families interrupted by some kind of chaos from protestors.
    Thank you

  4. Dear President Roth,

    I’m wondering if this might present opportunities to do Teach-ins to help students gain an understanding of the complicated, historical and nuanced factors in-play concerning Israel and the Palestinians? To protest in the U.S. is a valid and valuable exercise but it should be made as meaningful (and hopefully, as peaceful) as possible by understanding the situation in the most holistic way possible.

  5. Do t give in to terrorists. Enforce your rules in a content neutral manner, and that means disciplining students or faculty who violate your rules.

  6. This is completely unacceptable language and a significant lack of nuance by President Roth. Also, this is not aligned with the sentiments and spirit of Wesleyan University. Instead, it follows the status quo and lacks depth of analysis and support for the freedom fighters against tyranny. The atrocities of Gaza stems from racist policies from the Israeli government leading to the death of over 30,000 people and an increasing famine.
    Shame on you President Roth for capitulating. But, however, it goes in line with your support of Herb Kenny, a known racist for over three decades at Wesleyan, despite a clear disconnect particularly from Black Male alums who chose no longer to play basketball for the team.
    You know you are wrong and you continue to do the wrong thing.
    This has solidified my rationale to remain in California for my 25h Reunion.

  7. The agreements at Brown and Northwestern are disgraceful. Please don’t cave in to these hateful demands – I expect better of my school!

  8. Very disappointed in Roth’s leadership. ( lack of) Furthermore my emails to the administration and he president were not answered. It is not the first unanswered email. Nice to feel “appreciated “.
    Ironically , college sends an invitation to a fundraising event in NYC. By the tone of this message you can reckon where the fundraising invitation was deposited.

  9. I believe in peaceful protests but to have “intense conversations” with protestors after they engaged in acts of vandalism and intimidation is troubling to me. How about the protestors ask for more humanitarian aid as a vehicle to alleviate this troubling situation. After all isn’t that what they truly need now?

  10. If a student engaged in illegal activity such as vandalism in the course of daily campus life, there would rightfully be swift and severe consequences. For Wesleyan University to respond in any other manner or with any more leniency due to the activists claims of “free speech / free expression” is not only a failure to uphold school policy, but such inaction promotes the idea that rules and laws are secondary to individual idealism. Furthermore, it is essentially an unwillingness to support the majority of students who continue to abide by the rules and guidelines of Wesleyan and society as a whole. In simple terms it is cowardice behavior for fear of upsetting an unruly minority.

  11. You better cave in to those protesters’ demands. I want to attend my 5th reunion, but solidarity is more important to me.

  12. The careful, deliberate approach under current circumstances seems appropriate, as long the the protestors live up to their end of the bargain. Violence will result in a lose-lose situation. People will be hurt, and the reputation of the University will be damaged, however necessary any future violence (e.g. something like Hamilton Hall at Wes) may be. For now at least, the deliberate approach, with necessary vigilance, seems to give the best chance of balancing the equities.

    One important question: for how long will they be allowed to stay? Since the end of the academic year approaches, this question may become moot because the protestors will soon lack an audience. However, what about graduation and reunions?

    I do hope, though, that the President and campus security are contingency planning and brainstorming with appropriate authorities about possible responses to escalations of difficulties. This could reduce the risk of making really bad ad hoc decisions under great pressure. If you’ve thought about “it” in advance, there may be less risk of panic. I can imagine, for example, protestor efforts to nibble, i.e. breaking their agreement in small steps without provoking a University response.

    I ask again: are all the protestors students or Wes people of some sort? There have been claims that a “professional protest consultant” has been egging on and advising the Columbia protestors. Any such “consultant” here should be ejected from campus, or at least identified and tracked. Yeah, they may “consult” off campus, but don’t make it easy for them. If legal action becomes necessary, the “consultant” could be subject to conspiracy charges of some sort and should be the first target.

    Let’s hope for the best. Don Logie

  13. I responded earlier to your most recent update questioning why Wesleyan continues to allow the illegal pro-Palestinian encampments to continue, even in the face of anti-semitic vandalism and students who feel unsafe on campus.

    This morning I was looking at the University’s school calendar and I stopped dead in my tracks when I read that on May 2, in the middle of your encampment problem heating up, Wesleyan hosted Dr. Mohamed Abdou to speak on the topic “1492 and the Significance of Islam & Anarchism”. I am absolutely blown away. His bio from the Middle East Institute reads in part “Dr. Mohamed Abdou is a North African-Egyptian Muslim anarchist interdisciplinary activist-scholar of Indigenous, Black, critical race, and Islamic studies, as well as gender, sexuality, abolition, and decolonization with extensive fieldwork experience in the Middle East-North Africa, Asia, and Turtle Island”.

    As you are well aware, Dr Abdou is such an extremist that his name was brought up in the most recent Congressional hearings with Columbia’s President Shafik. You may recall President Shafik acknowledged Dr Abdou would never work at Columbia again due to his anti-Semitic, anti-American, pro-Hamas rhetoric. Above in his own bio Dr. Abdou refers to America as “Turtle Island”.

    What are the goals of having this person come and give a lecture on anarchy while you have students illegally encamped on your lawn? Did you think that perhaps this may further incite these students to take more drastic measures? Judging from your most recent statement to the Wesleyan Community obviously things have only escalated. Do you, as the President of Wesleyan, hold any accountability for the choices you are making which are fueling anger with the encamped students, as well as the majority non-encamped students? Out of curiosity, if Ben Shapiro was ever invited to give a lecture on “America and Israel: the Cornerstone of Democracy” would that even be allowed to take place? October 5th or May 2nd?

    I find it more than ironic that “free speech” is on the tips of your entire administration’s tongues, when just a short time ago your University was quite vocal on micro-aggression and safe spaces. The double standard is glaring to anyone who dares to look.

    Today Columbia cancelled Commencement, joining the ever growing list of Universities who chose not to enforce basic Title XI laws, in addition to their own Code of Conduct. Do you think that when you fail to meet the demands of Weslyan divestment from Israel that these students will quietly pack up and go back to their dorms?

    Yes, these students are accountable for their behavior and actions. And certainly we are not far from you calling law enforcement to clean up the mess you could have stopped by simply declaring that peaceful protests may happen, in a time, place and manner that takes into account your entire student body.

    But my main question is, at what point will you hold your faculty accountable? Which one of your faculty invited Dr. Abdou? And even if this lecture was set up months ago, as President of Wesleyan it is your duty to make the judgement call that now is not the right time. So when your students are getting hauled away in zip ties to be processed for trespassing, maybe you should reflect on who allowed the trespassing in the first place.

  14. Coddle them. Bestow praise’s. Nod in agreement. Just don’t feed them or give access to lavatories. And pray for torrential rains on many consecutive days and nights.

  15. From what I have observed ( from a distance) it seems to me that Wesleyan has acted and spoken with nuance and skill, not often found in these fraught times. Brave to President Roth et al.

  16. Hi Michael, I am going to read your The.Ink article. Without prejudice of read the others you mentioned. As soon as I finish that I will be glad to comment it. I have a substantive interest in the issue. Thanks!

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