University of California Faculty Statement on Protests


“We believe that the ability to protest nonviolently is essential to our democracy and a basic human right that must be respected and protected.”

[from a protest at UCLA, via The Los Angeles Times]

Faculty across the University of California system have signed onto the statement, “Support Students’ Right to Nonviolently Protest at the University of California.”

The statement continues to be open to signatures from UC faculty.

It says:

Nonviolent student protests at the University of California change the world. Entire academic departments owe their existence to nonviolent student protests at the University of California. The nationwide student movement to end the Vietnam War can trace its beginnings to nonviolent student protests at the University of California.

As faculty and staff at the University of California, we believe that the ability to protest nonviolently is essential to our democracy and a basic human right that must be respected and protected. We bear the responsibility of ensuring the safety, welfare, and basic human rights of our students. After more than 108 students engaged in a peaceful protest were arrested, suspended from their courses, and evicted from university housing on April 18, 2024 at Columbia University, with NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell stating that “the students that were arrested were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever, and were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” we believe that this basic human right requires our active protection.

Arresting or punishing students who protest peacefully and nonviolently on our campuses is antithetical to our university’s highest ideals of learning and scholarship and violates our university’s fundamental values of decency and respect. Especially during difficult moments of intense political contestation, it is essential that all members of our university community respect each other and not engage in authoritarian power plays. Our university has witnessed acts of police violence against students protesting peacefully (Davis in 2011), suspensions, evictions, and mass firings without due process (Santa Cruz in 2015 and again in 2020), and the use of university facilities as a field jail (Los Angeles in 2020). These infamous and disgraceful actions damage our confidence in each other and must not be repeated. In every action we take, we express our values as members of our treasured community. 

As our students stand up and use their voices, we will always do our best to support them and their basic human rights, and thereby support our university and our democracy.

You can see the list of signatories here.

(via Andy Lamey)

Related: the Los Angeles Times on university protests in California.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

25 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Closet conservative
Closet conservative
23 days ago

There seems to be widespread agreement on the following points: (1) Students have a right to peacefully protest. (2) Students do not have a right to create a hostile environment.

Obviously, the UC Faculty Statement was a response to reports coming in from across the country of pro-Palestinian student protestors being arrested or otherwise punished (e.g. at Columbia and UT Austin). I infer from the Statement’s condemnatory tone that the authors consider (many of) these arrests unjustified. Presumably, the authors believe (many of) those who were arrested were being peaceful, not hostile.

Now that violence has erupted at UCLA, perhaps the Statement’s condemnatory tone was premature. From a purely Bayesian standpoint, it seems to me that the initial probability of a pro-Palestinian student protest turning hostile is higher in comparison to other types of protests we’ve seen in recent years, e.g. those demanding universities divest from fossil fuel companies. Why? Because the protestors’ view is that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians. If that’s really true, being hostile just sort of makes sense (if you were an American college student in 1939, wouldn’t you hostilely protest the ongoing Holocaust?). Given the initial probabilities here, the UCLA debacle wasn’t surprising.

Now, I wasn’t present at UT Austin or Columbia when arrests took place. Whether these arrests were justified deserves to be investigated. But given the initial probabilities, I would softly expect an investigation to vindicate (many of) the arrests. And given this soft expectation, if I were a faculty member in the UC system, I would have considered signing this Statement premature.

In general, in light of the UCLA debacle, I think faculty should show greater support for administrators who are trying to preemptively disperse potentially hostile student encampments, rather than allowing them to escalate.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Closet conservative
23 days ago

You’re clearly wrong. The preemptive dispersement *caused* the protests to escalate. If Columbia had not called in the police on the protesters, there wouldn’t be encampments all over the country! The Columbia protesters were just chilling on the lawn, not hurting anyone, before the NYPD got sicked on them by Shafik. Trying to shut down free expression by force is a great way to really kick the hornet’s nest.

Derek Bowman
Reply to  Closet conservative
23 days ago

So to be clear, your position is that the more serious the cause being protested is, the less likely the protests are to be justified, since it’s more likely that the protestors will be warranted in being hostile?

Closet conservative
Closet conservative
Reply to  Derek Bowman
23 days ago

No. My position is that the condemnatory tone of the Statement was premature. It implies that many of the arrests at e.g. Columbia or UT Austin were unjustified. This, in turn, implies that many of those arrested were protesting peacefully, not creating a hostile environment.

However, what evidence does a faculty member at a university in Californiathousands of miles away from NYC or Austinhave to support the claim that e.g. “The students arrested at Columbia were not creating a hostile environment”? Most of the information we have is from social media. This is a poor source of information (e.g. a hostile mood at a student encampment might not be captured in a 30-second decontextualized viral TikTok). In general, we’re all occupying a poor informational environment. Given this, it seems premature to believe the proposition “The students arrested at Columbia were not creating a hostile environment.” It seems more reasonable to withhold judgment, initially, and seek better information.

Nevertheless, I suspect that, as better information becomes available, many of the arrests will be justified. This expectation is based on the initial, pre-investigatory probability that I assign to the proposition “The pro-Palestinian encampments at Columbia were creating a hostile environment.” The initial probability that I assign here is relatively higher compared to other protests, given these protestors’ particular grievance (they allege that Israel is committing genocide against a historically oppressed group). Given our poor informational situation combined with the relatively higher initial probability assigned to the claim “The pro-Palestinian encampments at Columbia were creating a hostile environment,” it seems hasty to sign a Statement with a condemnatory tone.

My point here, I think, would apply in other contexts too. E.g., imagine it’s January 6, 2021. While scrolling on social media, you begin to see viral, decontextualized videos of police aggressively handling pro-Trump protestors outside the Capitol. Is it reasonable to believe “The pro-Trump protestors were probably not creating a hostile environment”? Without better information, you’re at least epistemically obliged to withhold judgment. However, I would add one caveat: the initial, pre-investigatory probability that I would assign to the proposition “The pro-Trump protestors were creating a hostile environment” is relatively high, given their particular grievance (they allege that Democrats stole the election from Trump).

In sum, as it regards evaluating the proposition “The students arrested at Columbia were not creating hostile environment,” my point is this: (1) We’re all occupying a poor informational environment. (2) The initial probabilities here, I argue, point the other way. Given this, those who signed the Statement did so prematurely.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Closet conservative
23 days ago

What evidence do they have?! Probably they have testimony from, e.g., their colleagues at Columbia! C’mon, man, what is this argument? Do you think that a sizable number of professors at the UCs or Texas are forming their opinions by watching TikToks? Also, this analogy with January 6th is really lame. Trying to overthrow an election is orders of magnitude more serious than what we’ve witnessed.

Closet conservative
Closet conservative
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
23 days ago

I would point out that the testimonial evidence here goes both ways. Many Jewish students at Columbia have said that the encampments were creating a hostile environment.

And the point of my analogy was not to compare pro-Palestinian students protestors to pro-Trump Capitol rioters. It’s quite obvious that’s not what I was saying. My point was about whether it’s okay or not to take the particular grievance of a group of protestors into consideration when assigning initial probabilities in a poor informational environment. I argued that it is okay, and gave an analogy to illustrate my point.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Closet conservative
23 days ago

You’re simply assuming a poor information environment, when that’s not the case. I have friends who have visited the encampments at many institutions and I trust their testimony. The testimonial evidence also doesn’t “go both ways” because there’s scant testimonial evidence of the protests creating a hostile environment unless we take a very expansive view of what constitutes a “hostile environment” that I reject. For example, many Zionists students have claimed that “intifada” or “from the river to the sea” creates a hostile environment, which, I think, is false.

Derek Bowman
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
23 days ago

But if you simply refuse to seek out such testimonial evidence, you can transform your initial prejudices into rationally supported positions simply by redescribing them in the language of Bayesian priors. So why go to all that trouble just to risk the possibility that you might be forced to reevaluate your position?

Closet conservative
Closet conservative
Reply to  Derek Bowman
23 days ago

I’m not sure I understand your point. Is your point that epistemic vices are bad? I agree with that.

Closet conservative
Closet conservative
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
23 days ago

I claim that most of us occupy a poor informational environment with regard to evaluating the claim that e.g. “The students arrested at Columbia were not creating a hostile environment.” Despite this, the Statement takes a condemnatory tone, as if the claim is obviously true.

You respond thusly: (1) You have “friends who have visited the encampments at many institutions and [you] trust their testimony.” (2) The available testimonial evidence does not go both ways because the Jewish students who interpret “Intifada” and “From the river to the sea” chants as hostile are Zionists (and Zionists can’t be trusted, or their feelings don’t matter, or they interpret these chants differently than non-Zionist Jews/Israelis?).

About (1), if you personally have friends who have visited an encampment where arrests took place, and you’ve received testimony from these friends about what the environment was like, then your evidence is better than mine (I have no such friends). The question then becomes, whose evidential situation is more typical, yours or mine? If mine, then the typical signatory of the Statement occupies a poor informational environment (I know mine is poor). If yours, then the typical signatory of the Statement occupies a good informational environment, in which case the position I’ve been defending is wrong.

I would expect, however, that the evidential situation of the typical signatory looks more like mine than yours. If I’m wrong about that, fine. I stand corrected.

About (2), I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. When a pro-Palestinian protester at Columbia says the encampments are peaceful, and a Jewish student says otherwise, I see no reason to put more weight on the former’s word. I’m not even sure what the claim “All Jewish students who feel the Columbia encampments were hostile is a Zionist” means (Zionists are liars? Zionists’ safety doesn’t matter? Zionists and Jews have different feelings about the war?), or how anyone could know that.

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
22 days ago

“many Zionists students have claimed that “intifada” or “from the river to the sea” creates a hostile environment, which, I think, is false.”
That you agree with it doesn’t mean it doesn’t create a hostile environment. I can easily see why Jewish students might see these statements as threatening. I find them threatening! The former implies that 10/7 was justified “resistance” and the latter is an eliminationist slogan. Looks like hostile environment to me, esp when compounded with targeted harassment of individual Jewish students.

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  Aeon Skoble
21 days ago

They’re perfectly free to say those things and you probably shouldn’t be threatened by them. Intifada is also the word that was used to describe protests during the Arab spring, it means uprising. “From the river to the sea” is eliminationist insofar as it wants to eliminate an apartheid state – whether it is replaced with a two state solution or one democratic free state. You might find that threatening if you’d prefer to maintain an apartheid state, I guess.

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Phineas
20 days ago

LOL, if you think it’s an apartheid state, it’s easier to think it’s ok kill Jews; it’s “resistance.” That slogan explicitly means that Israel should not exist.

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
23 days ago

If you had a group of people on campus camping out and yelling “stop the steal” or “blue lives matter” for days, it had attracted a large group of people yelling anti-African American slogans outside of a university, and there had been violent incidents on and off campus, do you think that African American students would be right to say that they felt unsafe on campus? Do you think that the university should act? Do you think it would matter that some African American students joined the protest?

Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Nameless
23 days ago

The issue, to be clear, isn’t so much whether the speech should be allowed on campus, but whether it has escalated to the point of harassment. The evidence is that many students do feel threatened by the protests, and I don’t think that anyone is disputing that protests immediately outside of the university have devolved into antisemitism.

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
Reply to  Nameless
22 days ago

Yes. Also, if you’re preventing other students from going to class, it’s not a peaceful protest.

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Nameless
22 days ago

No, I don’t think police should be assaulting conservative students for engaging in speech either. I’m against police on campus except as an absolute last resort. Period. Yes, if the protest was totally different in the manner in which it was conducted I would probably feel differently about it. But, what kind of argument is this? “Imagine a totally different protest. One that’s violent and harassing. Ha! Betcha think the university is justified to remove the protesters now!” I get why you guys don’t want to attach your names to arguments like these!

Last edited 22 days ago by Jonathan Kendrick
Nameless
Nameless
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
22 days ago

The issue is that the slogans used at the protests and events related to the protest are reasonably viewed as anti-Semitic. While the Charlotte Kates wasn’t at the recent protests, she was invited to the campus by a group that I suspect is directly related to the protests. It is notable that she has been denied entry into the EU and is currently under investigation (having been arrested) for hate speech in Canada: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/hate-investigation-demonstration-comments-1.7190914. So I don’t think the example is too far off.

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  Closet conservative
23 days ago

It was pro-Israel protestors who attacked the encampment which started the skirmishes. Those were definitely hostile protestors. I agree with you that they should be banned.

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/ucla-student-encampment-attack-pro-israel-1235013151/

A Columbia Observer
A Columbia Observer
Reply to  Yazan Freij
22 days ago

Yes and no. By now, probably everyone has seen footage of the encamped protesters coming out of their barricades to assault people while police looked on. Could it not be argued, then, that the counterprotestors were challenging the protesters’ monopoly on violence?

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  A Columbia Observer
22 days ago

The skirmishes started AFTER the attack by the pro-Israeli mob. In other words, there WAS no violence to ‘monopolize’ on campus before their arrival. It is ironic though how the people supposedly concerned with students “feeling safe” on campus somehow conveniently cut this part out. It makes you wonder about the real motive.

Phineas
Phineas
Reply to  A Columbia Observer
21 days ago

No, it could not be challenged because you just need to look at the videos or read all the articles. Such as this one, where a pro-Israeli student denounces the attack for making their cause look bad.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-jewish-students-say-pro-israel-violence-at-ucla-protest-camp-undercuts-advocacy/

A Columbia Observer
A Columbia Observer
Reply to  Phineas
21 days ago

No it couldn’t be challenged because some students think it makes their cause look bad?

To my ear at least, that sounds like a non sequitur.

Whose opinion are these students worried about?

Have they considered that there may be different perceptions? Isn’t it possible that some audiences will see the reaction of the counterprotestors as a positive sign, a willingness to show that they’re not afraid to stand up to the oppressors?

Yazan Freij
Yazan Freij
Reply to  A Columbia Observer
21 days ago

I don’t know why my previous comment got deleted. Anyway here it goes again. What you are saying is misleading. All of the videos showing the skirmishes were AFTER the pro-Israeli folk started attacking the – until that point – peaceful encampment. Before that, there was NO violence to monopolize. If you have evidence of violence before the attack of the pro-Isrealis, please share it with us. Otherwise, the pro-Paleatinian crowd was acting in self defense,and the only one to blame for the escalation apart from the pro-Israeli violent protestors are the university administration that allowed such violent protestors in.

A Columbia Observer
A Columbia Observer
Reply to  Yazan Freij
21 days ago

I referred to the footage that everyone has now seen.

Apparently, what brought out the counter protesters in the first place was the brutal assault against a female student by a masked pro-Palestinian mob.

That footage has been aired nationally, and if you really haven’t seen it yet, it wouldn’t be particularly challenging to find it.

There happens to be in Los Angeles a sizable Persian Jewish community that fled Iran after 1979. The student who was isolated and beaten was a member of that community. Since the police were not doing anything, members of that community understood that they needed to take the situation in hand. All things considered, I think they showed admirable restraint.