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    Sunday, June 16, 2024

    A tale of two eras as college campuses are under attack

    Thinking back on my college days at Mohegan Community College (now Three Rivers) and Eastern Connecticut State College (now University), I can't help but wonder about the world of hurt we'd have come in for had we acted out like today's college students.

    By the time my college education began in 1972, the Vietnam War was winding down as were the sometimes-violent protests that spread across the country, including on any number of college campuses. It bore some resemblance to what America is experiencing today: large, loud, angry protests, defiance of authority, building takeovers, canceled classes, vandalism, police summoned to campuses and a nation angry and deeply divided.

    Of course, Israel was not part of the debate back in the late 1960s and early 70s. The war in Vietnam and racial tensions exacerbated by the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were at the heart of the nation's strife.

    Still, what sets the two eras apart is the blatant antisemitism that has permeated the current crisis. It would not have been tolerated then at Mohegan or Eastern, and if it rears its ugly head today at those institutions, we can only hope it wouldn't be tolerated now.

    There can be no other term but crisis to describe what we're seeing on our streets, our college campuses, and on nightly network newscasts and round-the-clock cable coverage. There are limits to free speech, including the old "You can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theater." There are also limits to free expression: "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins."

    Those limits pale by comparison to what's being expressed in today's hateful protests: death to Israel, death to America, from the river to the sea, implement the final solution and worse. And when they are directed at Jewish students on college campuses, who are routinely harassed and sometimes even assaulted; when they prevent other students from attending classes; when they block rush-hour traffic — including emergency vehicles — on public highways; destroy and take over public and private property, the whole free-speech, free-expression thing goes right out the window.

    With that in mind, where is the backbone and where are the principles and moral outrage of our elected leaders and the people who run our colleges and universities? You know, the ones who "condemn illegal activity in the strongest possible terms," then go on to the next issue du jour? How about withholding funding from colleges and universities that allow hate speech? After all, if they allow it, they condone it. They can say it violates their codes of conduct, but if there are no consequences, what good are they?

    What has become of prosecutors' and judges' sworn oath to uphold the law when protesters/rioters vandalize property, assault people, engage in hate speech, block traffic and infringe on the rights of others? Why aren't they punished as they should be — severely, with jail time and heavy fines — instead of receiving little or no punishment and being freed to return to the scene of the crime and do it all again?

    And what's with so-called leaders tiptoeing around the decision to enforce the law, almost to the point of apologizing? At the University of Connecticut, two dozen students were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct. UConn administrators said in a prepared statement afterward that filing the charges "was a difficult decision." Really? Why? The students set up an encampment on the property of a public university, were told repeatedly to remove it, and refused. So, they were arrested.

    "While we wish all arrests could have been avoided, we are grateful for the largely calm response and hope that this paves the way for constructive dialogue on very serious issues facing the global community in which we all live — which is exactly what a university community should foster," said the administration statement.

    Mush like this just melts your heart, doesn't it? How about an apology to Jewish students who are afraid to leave their dormitories or to the student body in general that has endured late-semester disruption?

    Those who were arrested were breaking the law. They're not victims; they're criminals. Punish them in the courts, throw them out of school, and do not refund a penny of mommy and daddy's five-figure tuition payment. Let Junior explain that when he gets home for summer vacation.

    What's on display now is the most flagrant and widespread antisemitism in our nation's history, and, sadly, the people we elect and entrust with young people's education and to uphold our laws, accept it by paying it lip service.

    Would there be such tolerance if a college's Young Republicans waged organized protests that attacked liberal students, berated them in public, caused a cancellation of classes and vandalized public and private property? It's not a stretch to suggest that they'd be arrested, prosecuted, punished and expelled so fast it would make their pointy little heads spin — as they should be. However, the law needs to be applied equally, and with official tolerance for what's happening now — with the encouragement from faculty at some campuses — it's not.

    Finally, there is parental responsibility for this as well. My parents and the parents of friends I grew up with in and around Norwich were all believers in free speech and standing up for causes. However, if it crossed the line into purposely breaking the law — tainted with the stench of antisemitism — there'd be hell to pay at home, far worse than anything the schools or the courts could mete out.

    That needs to start now before it's too late.

    Bill Stanley, a former reporter at The Day, is a retired vice president of Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.

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