- The University of Virginia found itself at the center of a rally which escalated into violence and resulted in the death of one person, promoting the state's governor to call a state of emergency over the weekend.
- The event called into question the role of presidents in addressing instances of extremist activity or unrest on campus, as UVa's president drew criticism for remaining mostly silent on the events as they unfolded, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- With experts noting that campus protests will persist as a more politically active, diverse student bodies emerge on campus, presidents must begin considering ahead of time whether and how they are going to address instigators of hate and violence — or else they risk allowing such activity to continue.
New generations of students with diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds are arriving on campus, and it's clear from the string of protests that have happened over the last few years, that they are willing to stand up for what they believe in through either protests or other forms of political activity. In fact, a report, entitled "Navigating the New Wave of Student Activism," shows that in 2015 10% of incoming first-year college students in their survey responded that they are likely to get involved with some form of protest while in school — another 69% said they would support policies that limit offensive speech on campus.
These statistics and recent instances of unrest at campuses like Evergreen State College reflect the fact that presidents are going to have to prepare for this type of activity as part of their jobs, especially when it comes to high-profile and controversial instances that can escalate into violence. And now the landscape of higher education campus life has changed so much so that students often feel unsafe or angered by controversial figures, beyond just race-related rallies.
But sometimes the protests don't spring from the student body themselves, but from outside antagonists who descend upon the campus with their own agenda, as was the case in Charlottesville this weekend. At Dillard University, several students and alumni were arrested and pepper sprayed by police after protests broke out around the appearance of former KKK leader David Duke on campus. While freedom of speech is of the utmost importance for intellectual growth on campus, it is incumbent upon university leaders to recognize that the safety of all students is their first priority.
Margaret Carlson, Political Commentator and Columnist for the Daily Beast, spoke at a Council for a higher Education Accreditation event earlier this year on the evolving political landscape after the Trump election. In terms of protests, she noted that there appears to be a rise in sensitivity to campus speakers, and that is an issue that administrators ought to be considering more throughout their jobs. Sally Johnstone, the President of the National Center for Higher Education Management system who was in attendance, added, saying inflammatory speakers and activity on campus is actually a critical safety issue that leaders are going to have to learn how to address.
This is particularly key now, as protests become a major facet of both life on campus and the business model of higher education for administrators to consider the concerns of an increasingly diverse student population — just ask the University of Missouri, which has experienced a 35% drop in enrollment since protests occurred there.