However, carried to extreme, campus protests are disruptive and damaging. Occupying buildings, interfering with classes and administrative offices, destroying property, throwing rocks and bottles, and breaking laws are anarchistic behaviors that have no business in academia and must not be tolerated. Furthermore, when protest discourse degenerates into name-calling, harassment, deception, and distortion of facts, educational values are undermined. Students should not be encouraged to believe that taking to the streets and pointing fingers at scapegoats is an appropriate or effective way to contribute to the solution of complex problems.Most important, however, is the following suggestion:
Thus, when some student and faculty protesters, upset about tuition increases at the University of California, downplayed the complex economic reasons for the increases and chose instead to level unwarranted blame at the feet of the regents, the system president, and the campus chancellors; and when their naïve “solutions” were to cut salaries of administrators and medical school faculty, halt construction of new buildings, and tap into alleged hidden pots of money, they were substituting emotion for reason.
In my experience, the leaders of disruptive and confrontational protests pose a particular challenge to university administrators, because they usually are not open to reasoned discussion and they are unlikely to ameliorate their stance in light of new knowledge. Many university presidents have observed that, at the edges, protest movements can attract zealots and ideologues for whom the ends justify the means. Thus, in my own career, I have seen protest leaders fake hate crimes in order to stir up campus racial discord, block thoroughfares that were the only route for community ambulances and fire vehicles, and make inflammatory and untrue allegations about university administrators.
Such persons are difficult to reason with because they do not have a balanced picture of reality. They live in an anger-driven, black-and-white world of un-nuanced arguments, where it is acceptable to ignore facts and take them out of context, and to reject summarily options, tradeoffs, and compromises. Hence these words from a recent UC-Davis protest website: “The administration lies. The police lie. We are done negotiating with the administration, we’re doing things on our terms now: direct action, occupation, reclaiming public space.”
Once rhetoric reaches this stage, further negotiation with protest leaders becomes unproductive. Acquiescing to protester demands in this situation is unwise because doing so merely raises the stakes and results in more demands. The last thing such groups want is to fade from public awareness and be negotiated out of existence. For the leaders, the sense of camaraderie, excitement, anarchistic freedom, and the sheer exhilaration of their “movement” can become ends in themselves, supplanting their original goals.
7. Universities should never agree to grant amnesty to protesters, because doing so establishes an unacceptable precedent and sends a message to protesters that staging illegal confrontations are a way to accomplish their aims and that there will be no consequences for their actions.
Again speaking from experience, the best way to defuse personal attacks is by not becoming rattled, avoiding responding in kind, and never failing to remain objective and even-handed. Presidents should also never, ever try to be funny. In the emotion-laden environment of a campus protest movement, an off-hand attempt at humor is guaranteed to backfire.Better wipe that smile off your face, Birgeneau.