But as students receive support from some academics in higher education, Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Harvard Law School professor, has denounced these protests for eroding the very basis of what he believes colleges should be.
“That’s what universities have to be about: dangerous ideas; ideas that are iconoclastic; ideas that aren’t part of the conventional wisdom,” Dershowitz told Business Insider.
There’s no idea that’s so despicable that it should be banned from campus, according to Dershowitz. “Everything should be allowed,” he said. “Ideas are permissible.”
At numerous schools — including the University of Missouri and Yale University — students have protested racism on campus and called for the resignation of administration members who they say are creating a dangerous environment. And at Amherst College, students have threatened to respond in a “radical manner” if their demands are not met.
But Dershowitz takes issue with many arguments students make during these increasingly common protests. He described a recent trip to Johns Hopkins to illustrate his point:
“When I spoke at Johns Hopkins, students protested, saying my refusal to acknowledge that Israel commits war crimes against the Palestinian people constitutes harassment of the students. That I had harassed students by my silence. You can’t have that on campus. Or they said in the petition against me that there are certain ideas that are not debatable. Well of course you can [debate ideas].”
He elaborated on his point by explaining that he’s heard students argue that you cannot debate issues related to sexual assault on college campuses. That argument is meritless to Dershowitz.
“You can debate whether or not you need affirmative consent,” he said. “You can debate whether the standard of proof should be by on a preponderance of the evidence or beyond a reasonable doubt.”
While Dershowitz’s message has largely been that students don’t understand that even racist speech is free speech and therefore should not be banned from campus, he does not condone instances that cross the line from protected speech to threatening language or actions.
On Thursday, for example, when students at Harvard Law School (HLS) awoke and walked to classes on Thursday, they were reportedly greeted with the defaced photographs of black tenured professors at the school.
Black professors had a slash mark drawn over their faces, in what some students are calling a racially motivated attack and hate crime. This crossed the line from free speech into unprotected action, according to Dershowitz.
“Freedom of speech does not include the right to deface university property in a racially motivated manner,” he said. “I hope this was not done by anyone affiliated with the university.”
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