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    Thursday, June 20, 2024

    Children in charge on college campuses

    A favorite quote from the recent campus conflicts comes from Adam Young, a freshman at the New School in New York. After student trespassers were arrested and hauled to police headquarters, he complained, "This is not OK ... We're 18 years old."

    Adam, there are 17-year-old Marines.

    The pro-Palestinian protestors have every right to rail against Israel's actions in Gaza and in the costumes of their choice. But when facing the consequences of breaking campus rules, many plead innocence by virtue of their youth.

    And why do so many faculty members support their expropriation of communal campus space? Because they're children, too. As a former senior editor at Princeton University Press once told me, professors who had never held a job outside of academia tended toward the immature.

    When students and outsiders smashed their way into Columbia University's Hamilton Hall, and the school called in police, the university senate, which includes faculty, demanded an investigation.

    When an 18-year-old breaks windows on a Walgreens, he gets arrested without controversy. But we are talking about a different demographic, are we not?

    Not everyone was unhappy at the video of 65-year-old Annelise Orleck getting tackled and zip-tied at Dartmouth College. The silver-haired history professor is seen charging at police and thrusting cameras in their face. It was the performance of her life. Perhaps the cops didn't care to be extras.

    New York Mayor Eric Adams refers to the unruly demonstrators at Columbia as "children." So did New York Police Department Chief of Patrol John Chell.

    "I guarantee you," Chell said, "those kids would be relieved because they don't want their dorm material on the corner and have mom come pick them up the next day."

    Scenes of riot-ready police descending on Columbia's campus may have offered cinematic tension, but not a single soul, including crowds milling outside the gates, ended up in the hospital. Emergency Medical Services probably got more calls that night from the local bars.

    Many in the "reasonable" media praised Brown University for negotiating a deal that didn't involve police. The students pulled up their tents in return for a promise to force managers of Brown's endowment to hold a vote on divesting Israel-connected assets.

    President Christina Paxson may have regarded accepting some low-level extortion as a price worth paying to get the whole thing over with. But some alumni donors saw it as a spineless gesture to pacify rule-breaking children.

    Thing is, students or anyone else can demand that Brown divest from Israel any day of the week. The Brown Corporation can follow their orders or not, but in this case, only one side of the conflict was offered Facetime with its members.

    Columbia president Minouche Shafik sent out a letter regretting her inability to reach the terms of a shakedown before calling police. "The University offered to consider new proposals on divestment and shareholder activism, to review access to our dual degree programs," she wrote apologetically.

    Columbia profs protected by tenure lacked the guts to show their faces even under the guise of protecting the children. On the subject of hidden identities, NYPD's Chell was asked whether police could distinguish students from the outside agitators. He responded with humor: "Dress on black scarf. I'm not sure that's a chemistry student."

    Over at MIT, more than a dozen professors sent school president Sally Kornbluth a package of letters urging her to continue "negotiations" rather than call police. Not one of them signed their name.

    A "lecturer" urged Kornbluth "to stand up with courage," and never request the use of force against the students. Whatever the author's academic specialty, his or her letter was a master class on the meaning of irony.

    Froma Harrop covers the waterfront of politics, economics and culture with an unconventional approach. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com.

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