Easy Answer for College Pro-Palestinian Protests


            New Orleans      Protests, mostly encampments, have now broken out all over the country on college campuses, spurred by the example at Columbia and the police arrests at that New York City Ivy League university.  The arrests are now in the hundreds and the number of colleges where students have taken actions, large or small, is also soaring, predictably.  Pundits, politicians, and others all are throwing in their two cents about what they want done in areas where it is obviously none of their business or concern, just cheap shots for the peanut gallery and the echo chamber.

Some, searching for a voice of reason, seek a clear path forward to advise college presidents in navigating this crisis.  Others hyped up by big donors and conservatives want a get tough, call-the-cops approach.  Few seem to be learning any lessons from the Columbia disaster.  The encampment of more than 100 tents and 300 students, predictably escalated after the arrests.  Obviously, the students returned to the protest and inevitably ended up occupying a building, rather than just a grassy stretch on campus.  The ham-fisted, caviling president, having failed to quell the protests by sucking up to deep red Congresspeople in the hearing, has now asked for police presence on campus throughout the month of May.  If anything, that request alone will throw more gasoline on the fire.  Meanwhile, these kangaroo court hearings in the House of Representatives, having found how easy it is to break college presidents like twigs, is moving to call more of them to their carpet to commit job suicide.

It’s worth remembering that all of this sound and fury is about a demand for disinvestment in college stock portfolios that support military enterprises, including Israel’s.  This is hardly a radical demand.  A central theme of social screens on investments, popular in many mainstreams and even Wall Street specialized funds, is to not invest in military contractors, as a matter of course.  This demand isn’t trivial, but there can’t be any confusion about the fact that it is irrelevant to the current situation in Gaza.  Conceding to the demand saves no Palestinian lives in the current conflict and stops no actions by Israel, so it’s hardly antisemitic and barely even pro-Palestinian.  In a helpless and hopeless situation, it’s simply the best demand available for powerless protestors to make to try to impact on a tragic situation where we are all impotent and helpless, from the White House to our house.

In a choice between bringing in the cops and negotiating over something as banal as stock and bond investments, why does this decision take more than a minute to make?  Furthermore, there are now examples that show its success.

Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, a solid Ivy League member, agreed to meet with the students about divestment, and they promptly took down their encampment.  How hard was that?  Northwestern in Chicago took another tack, that also worked, by agreeing to invest in a couple of Palestinian professors to visit over the next two years, scholarships for five Palestinian students, and a safe space for Muslim students.  The Wall Street Journal editorial page sees this as blackmail, but given the likely returns that Northwestern’s endowment made during the recent runup in the stock market, it’s more like greenmail, and hardly will equal the bar and restaurant bill for Northwestern’s trustee meetings.

Students are still young people looking to speak about their concerns and to actually be heard.  Why answer with the police and arrests, when it is so easy to offer them a chair at the negotiating table where you can actually make a deal?  This is especially true when it comes to something as irrelevant in a university’s scheme of things as individual stocks in its portfolio.  Unless a school is trying to teach students that money is everything and dialogue is nothing, following the lead of Brown and Northwestern seems like a no-brainer.