Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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Violent confrontations between pro-Palestine protesters, pro-Israel protesters, and police are increasing at colleges nationwide as school administrations request law enforcement assistance to clear tent encampments erected on campus property.

At Columbia University this week, protesters occupied and barricaded a building on campus, leading the school to request the New York Police Department enter campus to quell the demonstrations.

Thousands of student protesters across the country have been arrested while demonstrating in support of the people of Gaza and in opposition to Israel.

The crackdowns and arrests have sparked commentary and reflection on the First Amendment rights of the protesters. Are students' rights to free speech being violated? Are campus administrators obliged to create safe learning environments for all students, even if that means silencing some students? Will the crackdowns end the protests or add more fuel to the demonstrators' efforts?

A First Amendment scholar wrote in The Atlantic (Left bias), “the government can’t silence speakers because of their beliefs, even—and perhaps especially—if those beliefs are unpopular or cause offense.” Despite this, “many of the crackdowns appear to be a direct reaction to the protesters’ views about Israel.” The writer reflected, “Students nationwide are watching how the adults who professed to care about free speech are responding under pressure. And they are learning that those adults don’t really mean what they say about the First Amendment.” He concluded, “You may think some of it veers into bigotry. The answer is to ignore it, mock it, debate it, even counterprotest it. But don’t call in the SWAT team.”

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board (Lean Right bias) argued the First Amendment is not boundless. Addressing the encampment at Columbia University, the board wrote, “As a private university, Columbia has the right to set its own rules on speech as part of a contract to teach or study at the school.” The board concluded, “Protesters also don’t have a ‘right’ to assemble on school property to disrupt the functioning of the university or intimidate students on the way to class.” The board added, “This new progressive embrace of free speech rings especially hollow after years of student and faculty attempts to ban conservative speakers from campus and punish students for alleged micro-aggressions.”

A writer in CNN Opinion (Left bias) argued police intervention "only escalates the conflict and encourages more violence," concluding, "The time has come to end what has been a long political war on universities. It no longer benefits anyone, except those who truly want to destroy higher education and build their careers by repressing the free speech of young, talented citizens."

A writer in Reason (Lean Right bias) determined respecting free speech is a "balancing act" which "leaves room for criticism of both Columbia's paralysis over its campus encampment as well as the crackdown by public colleges in Texas on demonstrations that may be offensive but are peaceful and conducted within constitutional boundaries."

Apart from calling the police, what would it take to end the demonstrations? The principal demand of the student protesters is for the school to 'divest' from Israel, A.K.A. sell the parts of the school's endowment tied up in Israel-affiliated stocks.

While many schools are dismissing this demand as a logical impossibility, student protesters scored a win this week at Brown University, where school leadership reached an agreement with protesters (or "caved" to protesters, as other outlets reported) to hold discussions and eventually a vote on divestment. In return, students agreed to dismantle their encampment.

The president of Columbia has rejected similar calls to divest.

Graph reading "81% of U.S. adults 'agree that groups with politically unpopular views should be allowed to protest in public places.'"

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More from the Left

What Columbia Should Have Done Instead of Brutalizing Its Student Protesters
Salon (opinion)

"But making a police state out of the liberal university, creating an indelible picture of the intolerance of constitutionally protected free speech: that was all Shafik’s own choice, and will likely become the one she’s most known for during her tenure as university president, as long as that lasts."

More from the Right

After protest chaos, universities need to teach kids about real free speech — not about misgendering
The New York Post (opinion)

"It’s time for Columbia, and every school around the country, to roll out a free-speech orientation. The lesson plan is simple. Posters, chanting, protesting? Good. Heckling, damaging property, camping on the quad? Bad. And those tactics can result in suspension, expulsion, or even arrest. Considering Columbia’s new-student orientation harps on how not to misgender your classmates or accidentally offend them with jokes, a session on free expression is surely overdue."

More from the Center

Why Palestinians can count on American students but not Arab allies to protest

"Reasons for the comparative quiet on Arab campuses and streets may range from a fear of angering autocratic governments to political differences with Hamas and its Iranian backers or doubts that any protests could impact state policy. American students at elite universities may face arrest or expulsion from their schools, but harsher consequences could await Arab citizens protesting without state authorisation."

See more big stories from the past week.