Hamas Protests on Campus Reveal a Moral Flaw in our Universities

by | May 17, 2024 | Education

For Israel, the issue is: keep fighting or die. Our universities and intellectuals should continue to support them.

The riots on campus reveal a moral flaw in our universities. But it is not the one most people assume. Our Universities have always taken pride in the fact that they are places where students can learn, exchange ideas, and disagree peacefully. There were standard rules of conduct. For example, students were not allowed to seize and/or trash university property, disrupt campus events, threaten other students, or engage in violence.

The Palestinian riots changed all that.

University after university has caved and let the Palestinian supporters do what they want including including physically threatening Jewish students, taking over property meant for all students to use (e.g., lawns), invading and taking over university buildings, disrupting university events and demanding that universities divest themselves of stocks in companies that trade with Israel. Campus administrators have often sided with the Palestinian rioters letting them run amuck in the name of “freedom of speech,”. The violence left them paralyzed until outside pressures forced them to finally call the police the clear away the rioters.

What went wrong?

First, misunderstanding the nature of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech pertains fundamentally to the relationship between individuals and the government. It does not apply to individuals who voluntarily join an institution. To give a simple example, a store owner can say, “No insulting or threatening other shoppers here.” A university can do the same. Actually, freedom of speech itself has limits, e.g., consider fraud, treason, conspiracy, blackmail, slander, and libel. The principle is that speech cannot violate legitimate rights.

As I wrote in Freedom of Speech Should Not Be Limited by the Government:

What is the general principle here? Speech should be prohibited when it is used to lie or to steal proprietary information and causes people objective harm by taking away something they own or have a right to without their consent.

Dictatorships, of course, do not allow any freedom of speech. Disagreeing with a dictator means imprisonment or death.

Second, modern intellectuals, especially professors, have been teaching for decades that morality is subjective, e.g., we may object to the World Trade Center bombing but the bombers think it was a good thing, and Communists think their system is good. American intellectuals, other than Ayn Rand, think our version is better than others but they rarely if ever assert that it is objectively better, i.e., based on man’s nature as a rational being who needs the freedom to think and act on their thinking to survive. In my 34-year academic career, I found that professors would fight without hesitation to defend their research about say (as a fictional example) the sex life of the green-eyed frog, but they were very hesitant to get into debates about political/moral values. Thus it is not surprising that many felt too scared to speak up and some sided with the rioters.

Third, most academics seemed to not know the history of Israel, e.g., that Israel has been attacked seven or more times by countries that wanted to exterminate them. Although Israel won every war, each time hoping they were now safe, the attacks never stopped. The reason was that Israel’s enemies never gave up their fundamental goal to wipe Israel out! Given this, what was Israel to do? They must have concluded that they had to try to end the attacks once and for all. But the problem has been that unlike the Nazis and Japanese at the end of WWII, the Gaza leaders and their dictator supporters have never surrendered. The leaders are happy to make their citizens into martyrs–while they hide away in tunnels

For Israel, the issue is: keep fighting or die. Our universities and intellectuals should continue to support Israel. As I wrote in The Palestinian Choice,

“There will be no peace in the Middle East unless secular freedom rather than theocratic despotism becomes the Palestinians’ guiding philosophy.”[1]

As for when students and outsiders defy campus rules and forcibly disrupt university activities and/or will not disperse when requested by the property owners or their agents, there should be no hesitation in calling the police as necessary.


[1] Also see Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Wars.

Edwin A. Locke is Dean's Professor of Leadership and Motivation Emeritus at the R.H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. He is a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial & Organizational Behavior, and the Academy of Management. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award (Society for I/O Psychology), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Management (OB Division), the J. M. Cattell Award (APS) and the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the Academy of Management. He, with Gary Latham, has spent over 50 years developing Goal Setting Theory, ranked No. 1 in importance among 73 management theories. He has published over 320 chapters, articles, reviews and notes, and has authored or edited 13 books including (w. Kenner) The Selfish Path to Romance, (w. Latham) New Directions in Goal Setting and Task Performance, and The Prime Movers: Traits of the Great Wealth Creators. He is internationally known for his research on motivation, job satisfaction, leadership, and other topics. His website is: EdwinLocke.com

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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