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University leaders and faculty were divided over pro-Palestinian protests

University leaders and faculty were divided over pro-Palestinian protests

Nearly 50 professors at the University of Virginia condemned the school’s “suppression of a peaceful protest by our students” after police in riot gear attacked pro-Palestinian occupiers over the weekend and joined faculty at other schools in supporting encampments that university leaders are increasingly opposing.

The group of history professors began distributing an open letter on Sunday, a day after Virginia State Police clashed with protesters at UVA, using pepper spray and physical force to clear the encampment and arrest 25 agitators.

The professors join others at schools such as the University of Chicago, Emory University and Columbia University, who have also tried to speak up on behalf of student protesters in light of attempts by university leaders to crack down on them before graduation ceremonies in starting within the next two years. to soften.

“We … condemn the suppression of a peaceful protest by our students by armed state police in riot gear,” the UVA professors said.

The professors did not take sides in the Israel-Gaza debate, but rather pointed to Founding Fathers such as Thomas Jefferson, who founded the university and authored the Declaration of Independence, and James Madison, who largely wrote the U.S. Constitution.

“Here we are not afraid to follow the truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error, so long as reason is left free to combat it,” they wrote, quoting Jefferson. Regarding the school’s policies on freedom of speech and expression, faculty members wrote, “The University of Virginia has a unique connection to the principles of free speech and inquiry” through its historic ties to the architects of the First Amendment.”

“Regardless of our differing views on the cause for which the protesters were advocating, the virtues of inquiry and debate, as well as the importance of asking critical questions, are fundamental to our mission as members of the University of Virginia faculty,” she added to.

While UVA did not respond to a request for comment from the Washington ExaminerSchool President Jim Ryan issued a statement regarding the use of force to remove the camp, saying the students had been given numerous warnings and that the university police’s “attempts to resolve the situation were met with physical confrontation and attempts to abuse.”

Signers of the faculty open letter called Ryan’s message “full of platitudes, half-truths and evasions” and claimed the school was “creating the conditions it had tried to avoid: chaos, conflict and violence.”

Jonathan Butcher, senior research fellow in education policy at the Heritage Foundation, said the encampments have in some cases exceeded free speech protections.

“The faculty cannot claim ‘freedom of speech’ if students are involved in violence, property damage or violation of school rules,” Butcher told the newspaper. Washington Examiner.

“Speech and violence are different. Students and faculty on a public college campus should have the opportunity to speak and be heard in public spaces, as long as they do not violate the expressive rights of others,” Butcher added. “However, when individuals and groups violate university policy (as was done at UVA by setting up tents without a permit) or damage campus property (as at Columbia and UCLA), that is not a protected expressive activity.”

Teachers at other schools are also on the side of the demonstrators. On Monday morning, another group of about fifty University of Chicago faculty members came to defend the occupying protesters who have been camped in the school’s main building for more than a week. They said they were prepared to be arrested along with them if tensions escalated.

“Our most immediate concern is the well-being of our students,” philosophy professor Anton Ford said, according to ABC 7 Chicago. “We don’t want them getting beat up just for camping on the lawn. Because we expected rain last night, there were dozens of us here, most of them prepared to be arrested along with our students.”

The University of Chicago’s negotiations with protesters broke down Sunday after a confrontation Friday with pro-Israel counterprotesters and a message from university President Paul Alivisatos saying he was ready to “intervene,” adding that there was “no end was in sight” and “the encampment cannot be continued”. Get on.”

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In late April, professors at Emory University organized a walkout in support of protesting students, just as a group of professors there approved a measure to trigger a vote of no confidence in school President Gregory Fenves. That vote was approved by faculty 358-119, shortly after police ended the camp and arrested 28 people, 20 of whom were faculty and staff.

Around the same time, as negotiations took place in New York City, Columbia University faculty stood in solidarity with the encampment and joined forces ahead of the then-deadline for students to remove themselves before being suspended.