Restoring Order, Reason, and Learning on America’s College Campuses

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

As the devastating Israel-Gaza war wages on, American universities have seen escalating protests, growing tensions, and heightened safety concerns envelop their campuses over the last week. The demonstrations have spread to universities across America, leading to arrests, closures, and walk-outs.

As former President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday, “What’s going on at the college level and the colleges – Columbia, NYU and others – is a disgrace,” and added “It’s really on Biden. He has the wrong signal. He’s got the wrong tone. He’s got the wrong words. He doesn’t know who he’s backing and it’s a mess.”

At the epicenter of the recent intensifying anti-Israel protests is Columbia University.

As Columbia University President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik testified on Capitol Hill on April 17, students set up a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on Columbia’s campus to demand the university divest its financial ties to Israel. The demonstrations have continued to stoke tensions, leading to the arrest of more than 100 students, the walkout of hundreds of faculty members, and the move of in-person classes online.

Amidst the ongoing protests, many Jewish students on campus fear for their safety. Rabbi Elie Buechler, who is associated with Columbia University’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus, “strongly” advised Jewish students to go home due to safety concerns. For those celebrating Passover, Rabbi Yehuda Drizin meanwhile delivered matzo to Jewish students and remarked, “This is a formative moment and none of them deserve to be in this.”

Let me be clear, there is no place in classrooms or campuses for antisemitism, violence, or discrimination. Any Columbia student or faculty member who perpetrates such hatred should be held accountable by the University and strongly condemned by members of the university’s community.

Our Constitution makes clear that you can’t infringe on the right to free speech of the whole because of the indefensible actions of some, and by the same token, you can’t permit harassment and fear to overtake the right to religious freedom, safety, and liberty – one First Amendment liberty does not usurp the other.

Students have a duty to abide by the rules and treat their peers with dignity and respect; failure to do so hinders others’ learning, and such impudent students have no business being a part of a campus community.

The chaos that has engulfed campuses in recent days demands more than a break from campus and a reset.

Disagreements, disputes, and dissent have existed at Columbia since it was founded as King’s College in 1754.

Used by American, and later British, troops as a military hospital during the Revolutionary War, Columbia University was once the academic home of Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Gouverneur Morris, a lead author of the U.S. Constitution, and Robert L. Livingston, one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence.

Unfortunately for students today, numerous professors at Columbia and other universities are not fostering the type of dialogue and encouraging the sort of critical thinking that is essential for institutions of higher education.

At Columbia, for example, several Arab studies professors have come under fire for openly supporting Hamas and calling the Oct. 7 attacks “incredible.” Further, consider Shai Davidai, a pro-Israel Columbia assistant professor, who sent an email to Columbia’s administration officials saying he planned to physically place himself “right in the center of the illegal encampment.”

Provocative statements and actions lead to division, not solutions. Order, reason, and learning must be restored on America’s college campuses.