Demonstrators supporting Palestinians in Gaza barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall, an academic building in New York City that has been occupied in past student movements, on April 30, 2024

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Mob Education at the Ivies

Students at America’s top universities are learning the lesson Hamas has internalized

Alexandra Orbuch
May 31, 2024
Demonstrators supporting Palestinians in Gaza barricade themselves inside Hamilton Hall, an academic building in New York City that has been occupied in past student movements, on April 30, 2024

Alex Kent/Getty Images

As a current Princeton student, I believe that I am receiving an unparalleled education. Through my coursework, I have delved into Herodotus’ Histories, explored the intricacies of constitutional law and the rationale behind different theories of jurisprudence, and engaged with primary sources regarding religious tolerance in early America. While I will cherish my classroom experience for the rest of my life, my time outside the classroom has led to bitter disappointment.

In November 2023, I was harassed and assaulted by an anti-Israel protester while covering a demonstration at Princeton in my capacity as a student journalist. After my assault, I filed an official report of the incident and voiced my concerns about my interactions with Princeton Public Safety, but the investigation was dismissed, and the “dismissal of a complaint during the initial assessment is final and not subject to appeal,” according to a letter signed by Michele Minter, Princeton’s vice provost for institutional equity and diversity.

Minter’s assessment of my testimony and evidence appeared to give the student who assaulted me the benefit of the doubt that his “physical contact with [me]” was “inadvertent,” despite extensive video footage of the protester stalking me for the duration of the hourslong protest and the fact that I voiced discomfort with his physical closeness to Princeton Public Safety officers numerous times (interactions which I recorded) prior to the assault incident—to no avail. The letter further argued that because I “did not wear or hold anything that identified [me] as a reporter,” his behavior did not “implicate the Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment.” In other words, though the administration admitted that the protester was “motivated by an attempt to block [my] ability to record the protest,” that was considered acceptable because I did not have a “REPORTER“ sign unfurled across my body.

In addition to not pursuing any disciplinary action against the student who assaulted me, the university allowed him to issue a no contact order (NCO) against me. This occurred despite the fact that the NCO policies were very clear that the university only provides no contact orders “if conflict persists after an individual communicates in writing to the other individual that they wish to have no communication with that individual.” I did not get that warning in writing—or any other form—before the NCO was ordered. The rules weren’t followed in my case, and despite my attempts to seek clarification, Princeton’s administrators refused to reckon with that and explain this breach of policy.

What I have found most troubling these last seven months is that this ethos, which represents an inversion of the values an American university ought to impart to its students, has been mainstreamed.

The order restricted both myself and the other party from having any contact, whether that be “in person or through another party, by telephone, letter, email, or other electronic media, or by any other means, including social media.” I was instructed in an email from the assistant dean for student life of my residential college that “[t]he safest course of action in terms of a possible violation of the NCO would be to refrain from writing or to be interviewed for articles” as that could be construed as “contact.” My right to free expression was curbed, and only once I acquired legal assistance to put public pressure on the university was the NCO removed. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and the Anti-Defamation League penned a public demand letter calling on the university to put an end to its “improper use of no-contact orders to censor students” and “prevent further abuse of students’ expressive and press freedoms.” Even after this prompted an NCO policy change, my own order was not lifted until I reached out to the university and made clear to them that this order—already procedurally invalid, as I was not given notice prior to it being issued—was now substantively invalid in light of the new policies. Only then, months after my NCO was issued, was it finally removed.

I had to fight for months to remove an unjustly imposed university order, yet I have witnessed errant anti-Israel protesters who seem to violate university policy and the law being privileged with an expedited disciplinary process, often resulting in no discipline at all. The reality is that these universities, by validating this ethos of entitled thuggery, have abandoned their core mission and become shells of their former selves.

A case in point is how the universities have dealt with the so-called “Gaza Solidarity Encampments.” A few days before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s May 23 hearing on campus antisemitism, Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber announced a “restorative justice” process for “students arrested in protest-related offenses” over the past few months—ostensibly referring to the encampment and the protesters’ occupation of a campus building. This disciplinary mechanism aims to “minimize the impact of the arrest on the participating students” by working to “rapidly conclude the University disciplinary process, making it possible for the students to join Commencement and receive their degrees.” In a similar move, Brown University President Christina Paxson’s negotiation with protesters ended with her agreeing to have the Corporation, Brown’s governing body, vote on divesting from Israel-affiliated companies in exchange for the end of the encampment. Harvard University, too, took similar action. Harvard’s interim president, Alan M. Garber, publicized his plan to “promptly begin reinstating at least 22 students from involuntary leaves of absence and offered protesters a meeting with members of the university’s governing boards about divestment.”

The decisions of each of these presidents can only be summed up as follows: Mob action will not only go unpunished, it will also be rewarded. That is to say, the universities’ response to anti-Israel mobs mirrors the U.S. government’s response to the Palestinians’ Oct. 7 terror attack glorified by the campus mob, and which launched their movement. In return for brutal mass murder, the Palestinians received recognition of statehood and hundreds of millions in aid. And for their seven months of escalating riots, antisemitic harassment, and violations of codes of conduct, the anti-Israel activists on American campuses are receiving their cut as well.

It came as no surprise, then, that these presidents’ seemingly promising statements early on about the encampments, in which they expressed commitment to the rule of law, accountability, and an unimpeded academic environment, were quickly shown to be hollow rhetoric. Given the immunity they have afforded the student mob over the past seven months, it was predictable that the universities would quickly backtrack.

Before students established an encampment at Princeton, the university’s Vice President Rochelle Calhoun warned protesters that activities “including occupying or blocking access to buildings, establishing outdoor encampments and sleeping in any campus outdoor space” were explicitly prohibited. If these avenues were pursued, she assured the campus community that the university would step in “to ensure the safety of our community or to prevent disruption to ordinary activities of the University.” Should protesters refuse to heed her warning, they were told to expect to “be arrested and immediately barred from campus,” developments which “would jeopardize their ability to complete the semester.” Moreover, the university would initiate a disciplinary process that could very well “lead to suspension, delay of a diploma, or expulsion” for those involved.

After protesters were arrested for occupying Clio Hall, Calhoun again firmly asserted that such behavior would not be tolerated. She declared that 11 arrested students were “barred from campus” and would “face a University disciplinary process that may lead to suspension, the withholding of degrees, or expulsion.” Calhoun underscored that the administration in no way “expect[ed] that it can be completed before Commencement,” given the rigor and length of the process. Emphasizing the seriousness of the protesters’ conduct, she further stressed that “[g]iven the egregious nature of their conduct, they are also likely to face serious criminal charges,” and the university would not get in the way of prosecutors by asking them to “ drop any criminal charges brought against members of our community or outsiders.”

You would be forgiven if you took this rhetoric with a grain of salt, considering how, for months, schools went to great lengths to protect student protesters, namely foreign students, from disciplinary action, ensuring that their visa status would not be jeopardized. Sure enough, less than two weeks after Calhoun’s second message, Princeton went from promising law and order to pushing a “restorative justice process” that essentially lets law-breakers off scot-free. The lengthy disciplinary process they were warned of somehow became magically brief. Students who were supposedly not even allowed on campus got their degrees and were able to partake in reunions and other end-of-year celebrations. Faculty members expressed their support for this legal absolution, passing a nonbinding resolution calling on the university to grant “amnesty to all students involved in the encampment, occupation, and hunger strike” by “[b]ringing internal disciplinary investigations to a close” and making clear to law enforcement “that it does not wish to press criminal charges.”

Brown University folded much earlier than Princeton. On Nov. 8, 2023, 20 students affiliated with BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now were arrested by the university’s Department of Public Safety for trespassing after they staged a sit-in at University Hall. Before the sit-in began, the university had issued numerous warnings that students “would not be allowed to remain in the building after normal operating hours for security reasons, and that they could face disciplinary action” should they choose to disregard university policy. A statement from the university earlier in November had clarified that disciplinary action could entail “suspension or revocation of the user’s relationship with Brown University,” and in certain cases, “civil and criminal charges.” Just 20 days later, not even two months after the Oct. 7 massacre, the university dropped the charges, citing high “tensions on campus.”

Given this display of reluctance to uphold its policies and public statements, Brown’s agreement with encampment organizers should come as no surprise. Though the university has so far refused to drop charges against 41 students arrested in a December sit-in, it signaled through other avenues that it remains amenable to caving to protesters’ demands. In late April, Paxson offered encampment leaders direct access to key Corporation members to make their case for a vote on university divestment from Israel. The formal vote will occur in October.

At Harvard, university spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain made clear in early May that the ongoing protest encampment in Harvard Yard is a violation of university policy, one that continues to disrupt the normal academic and operational activities of Harvard’s community.” As such, Harvard’s dean of students declared that “[t]hose participating in the ongoing encampment and associated activities will face disciplinary consequences as outlined in existing policies.” He further asserted that “[r]epeated or sustained violations will be subject to increased sanctions.”

On May 20, the Harvard Corporation overruled a vote by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to confer degrees on 13 students facing disciplinary charges for participating in the encampment. However, in its statement on May 22, the Corporation included a caveat: “Because the students included as the result of Monday’s amendment are not in good standing, we cannot responsibly vote to award them degrees at this time.” (Emphasis added.) Indeed, the Corporation wrote that the students may yet receive their degrees once the disciplinary process concludes: “We will consider conferral of degrees promptly if, following the completion of all FAS processes, a student becomes eligible to receive a degree.”

Some Harvard professors threatened the Corporation with a “faculty rebellion,” especially as the decision appears to be in conflict with the statement by Harvard President Garber a week earlier. Garber had argued that “[w]ith the disruption to the educational environment caused by the encampment now abated, I will ask that the Schools promptly initiate applicable reinstatement proceedings for all individuals who have been placed on involuntary leaves of absence.”

Despite the Corporation’s decision, the encampment that Harvard leadership once described as “disrupt[ive],” “a violation of University policy,” and subject to “disciplinary consequences” has nevertheless yielded significant gains for the mob. In a similar move to Brown, Garber intends to organize a meeting between the protesters and a member of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing body. According to Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP), the group that organized the encampment, the meeting will focus on “disclosure and divestment.” Acceding to more of HOOP’s demands, Garber pledged to organize a meeting between HOOP and the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences regarding the creation of a Palestinian studies center.

The developments at Princeton, Brown, and Harvard demonstrate that these institutions of higher learning have lost sight of why they exist in the first place—educational excellence.

Education—especially an Ivy League education—involves acquiring values and priorities that will carry over beyond the four years within the walls of any university. These values are meant to shape young students, who enter college in their late teen years and emerge as adults.

Being an adult means internalizing that actions have consequences and that accountability is vital for the functioning of civil society. On campuses across the country, students are taking away a very different message—a message of entitlement. You can interfere with the learning of your fellow students, trespass on private property, and blatantly disobey direct orders without fear of serious repercussions. In fact, if you double down on the path of obstinacy, intimidation, and harassment, the world will accede to your demands.

What I have found most troubling these last seven months is that this ethos, which represents an inversion of the values an American university ought to impart to its students, has been mainstreamed.

This is the same message that the world has long sent the Palestinians and that our own government has broadcast since Oct. 7. Hamas brutally murdered, raped, mutilated, and burned alive innocent Israeli civilians. In return, they received hundreds of millions in aid, a U.N. General Assembly resolution urging the Security Council to grant Palestine member status, and the U.S. prioritizing the creation of a Palestinian state. Today’s college students are learning the lesson Hamas has internalized: Violence brings rewards.

Alexandra Orbuch is a junior at Princeton University studying history. She currently serves as publisher of the Tory, Princeton’s journal for conservative thought.