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Universities Find More Negotiating and Less Confrontation Helped Deal with Protests

While some university administrators sought to confront student protesters in recent weeks, other administrators quietly attempted to ease tensions and to enhance safety for all in their campus communities. One success story, according to the Wall Street Journal, was Brown University in Rhode Island. There, students demanded to speak to the University Board to promote a divestment policy from Israel. They offered to take down their two-week-old encampment as a bargaining chip. The Board invited student leaders who presented a serious, coherent plan. The Board did not promise total divestment, but is considering the input and is working with the students for free speech access for all. To uphold their part of the deal, the students voluntarily took down their encampment. Brown President Christina Paxson said that she will not interfere with the disciplinary process, but that she felt confident that the de-escalation will help lead to a “favorable” outcome for all.

At Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago, school President Michael Schill said that his campus had a game of “Whack-A-Mole” for weeks, where campus security would remove one encampment one day, only to see a new encampment the next. Schill decided to meet with the students and work out a deal. One of the demands of the students was to re-establish the school’s advisory board on the school’s investment strategies. The students wanted a channel for influence on their plan for divestment from Israel. Schill re-established the investment advisory board and was happy that he could comply with school policy and protect free speech at the same time.