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What We’re Reading: May 2024

In focus this month: student protests sweep colleges and universities, disrupting campus life and prompting over 2,800 arrests. Plus, new legislative and executive actions that threaten to chill campus speech.

Campus Happenings

The Growing Pro-Palestinian Protest Movement, Visualized
Max Rust, Dan Frosch, Valerie Bauerlein, and Taylor Umlauf | The Wall Street Journal | April 24, 2024

Pro-Palestine protests have spread across college and university campuses in recent weeks. Hundreds of arrests have already been made as administrators attempt to strike a balance between free speech and campus safety. Protest organizers and law enforcement officials are preparing for continued protests throughout the summer, including at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee and the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Activist Groups Trained Students for Months before Campus Protests
Tawnell D. Hobbs, Valerie Bauerlein, and Dan Frosch | The Wall Street Journal | May 3, 2024

Campus protestors across the country have received training and support from “longtime activists and left-wing groups.” Student organizers at Columbia University consulted groups including the National Students for Justice in Palestine and former Black Panthers in the months leading up to the demonstrations.

A Chaotic Night at U.C.L.A. Raises Questions about Police Response
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Mike Baker, and Serge F. Kovaleski |The New York Times | May 12, 2024

As colleges and universities around the country have called on law enforcement to contain protests or clear encampments, some institutions have come under scrutiny for alleged failure of police to deal with violent protests and counterprotests. The University of California, Los Angeles has hired an independent consultant to investigate the slow response to an attack on a pro-Palestinian encampment on April 30.

State and Federal

Columbia University President Takes Heat at Congressional Antisemitism Hearing
Gabriella Borter | Reuters | April 17, 2024

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik testified on antisemitism on campus before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. Republican committee members accused Columbia of failing to protect Jewish students, while President Shafik denounced antisemitic behavior by students and faculty.

Campus Free Speech Is Getting Murky for Republican Governors
Juan Perez Jr. | Politico | April 27, 2024

Pro-Palestine protests on campuses in Republican states are challenging free speech protections set by Republican governors in recent years. State troopers and local police have arrested large numbers of demonstrators at protests in red states, while Texas Governor Greg Abott recently issued an executive order directing universities to review and update their speech codes.

House Passes Bill to Expand Definition of Antisemitism Amid Growing Campus Protests Over Gaza War
Farnoush Amiri | AP News | May 1

In a 320-91 vote, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6090, the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which will require the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to employ the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism when reviewing discrimination complaints. Some critics worry that adopting the IHRA definition, which includes speech “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity,” would chill constitutionally protected expression.

Opinions and Thought Pieces

Some College Campus Have Been Restricting Speech. Oklahoma Schools Intend To Protect It.
Andy Lester | The Oklahoman | April 23, 2024

Andy Lester, chairman of the Oklahoma Free Speech Committee, argues Oklahoma is well-equipped to handle free speech controversies thanks to action taken by the state legislature and board of regents. H.B. 3543, signed into law in 2022, established a bipartisan committee to review institutional policies and accept complaints. The state regents adopted Policy 2.28 in April, which makes freedom of expression central to the mission of Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities.

The Campus-Left Occupation That Broke Higher Education
George Packer | The Atlantic | April 25, 2024

Atlantic writer George Packer contextualizes the current climate on campus, arguing that “a long, intricate, but essentially unbroken line connects that rejection of the liberal university in 1968 to the orthodoxy on elite campuses today.” This orthodoxy focuses on training students to think in terms of oppressor and oppressed, rather than equipping them with the capacities for independent thought and open debate.

Colleges Have Gone off the Deep End. There Is a Way Out.
David French | The New York Times | April 28, 2024

Former litigator David French argues that the failure of universities to enforce their own protest policies has encouraged lawlessness, creating “chaos and injustice.” He explains that when institutions “recognize and enforce the distinctions among free speech, civil disobedience and lawlessness, they can protect both the right of students to protest and the rights of students to study and learn in peace.”

Long Read

Gallup-Lumina Foundation State of Higher Education 2024 Report
Gallup | May 2, 2024

A new Gallup report reveals that about one-quarter of college students do not believe that their institution is a place where everyone can freely express their opinions on controversial issues. The survey found little variation across race, party affiliation, or gender identity.

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