The Campus Protests: Voices From Columbia, Barnard and Beyond

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Protesters have occupied a lawn at Columbia University for nearly two weeks.Credit…Bing Guan for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Campus protests, some involving violence, are not new. Columbia was one of the centers of student activism during the Vietnam War, peaking in 1968, when protesters seized several university buildings.

But the worst moment was on May 4, 1970, when Ohio National Guard troops killed four unarmed student antiwar protesters at Kent State University.

That was then — when protests were about U.S. government policies around a totally misguided deadly war.

But now we have a far different reality in which we’re seeing what amounts to an internecine clash of worldviews among different factions of students and faculty.

University leaders across the country are generally unprepared to manage these crises. But why are we surprised? Crisis management is a specific skill set that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to academicians.

What’s needed now is smart, sensitive leadership that understands the dynamics of the intense and dangerous turmoil that is roiling campuses across the country. Universities must create clear guardrails with respect to what is permissible and what won’t be tolerated in terms of actions, speech and public messages among students, faculty and staff.

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