". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Anti-Israel Columbia Students Attempt University-Jacking

December 12, 2023

Radical, left-wing student groups at Columbia University are recruiting students for a “tuition strike” for the spring 2024 semester until the university meets a long list of demands. The agitators insist on control of the university’s finances, removal of university trustees, and changes to the Public Safety department that would render it unable to control campus protests in favor of Hamas. But the student radicals may have overestimated their leverage.

The strike is organized by a “coalition between the Barnard Columbia Abolitionist Collective, the Young Democratic Socialists of America [DSA], and Student-Worker Solidarity.” DSA in particular has released an activism “toolkit” to help standardize nationwide demonstrations that are not only pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel but pro-Hamas/anti-Jew.

DSA has also cooperated heavily with other radical left-wing groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). JVP and DSA were among the groups responsible for blockading the Democratic National Committee and illegally occupying the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building earlier this fall. SJP, which has for years mobilized a “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement against Israel, organized a national “day of resistance” the week after Hamas’s terror attack on Israel and was responsible for the Cooper Union mob that harassed Jewish students sheltering in a library.

Indeed, Columbia University has not been immune from violence against Jewish students. On October 11, a student — now former student — who identifies as transgender tore down posters of Israeli kidnapping victims before physically assaulting a Jewish student who confronted him. A Jewish billionaire resigned in disgust from the Columbia University Board of Trustees last month over the university’s “moral cowardice” in confronting violence or threatened violence against Jewish students.

“These campuses, particularly the so-called ‘elite ones,’ have such a profound ideological tilt,” said Ira Stoll, editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com on “Washington Watch.” “It’s just this far-Left atmosphere. And we’ve seen that spill over into harsh anti-Israel views.”

To their credit, Columbia University suspended campus chapters of SJP and JVP “after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon [November 9] that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” The group’s suspensions prevent them from organizing campus events or accessing university funds. Now, allied groups — with the same goals and likely overlapping membership — are retaliating against the university with a threatened tuition strike.

According to a Google document outlining their demands, the strikers demand, among other things:

  • “that a referendum be established for students. … This referendum will be binding; if a majority (50% +1) of students vote in favor of divestment, Columbia will immediately divest from all companies profiting from or otherwise supporting Israeli apartheid and end their academic ties to Israel.”
  • “that Columbia immediately remove Board of Trustees members whose personal investments, financial commitments, employment, or other forms of business involvement entail profit from or support for Israeli apartheid.”
  • “the immediate release of financial information and data related to Columbia’s investments for the last 10 years, and a commitment to annually releasing the same information going forward, including:”
  • “the immediate release of the Public Safety budget information and related budget details for the last 10 years, and a commitment to annually releasing the same information going forward.”
  • “the immediate release of Public Safety organizational and policy information … including:
    • “Training and experience required for Public Safety personnel.
    • “Responsibilities and powers of Public Safety personnel.
    • “Information regarding video and audio surveillance conducted by Columbia on and around campus.”
  • “that Columbia University cease contact with and outreach to the NYPD for the purposes of crowd control and protest support.”

The second bullet is the most absurd because “overall governance of the University lies in the hands of its Board of Trustees. The trustees select the president, oversee all faculty and senior administrative appointments, monitor the budget, supervise the endowment, and protect University property.” The trustees even choose their own replacements.

It seems these rabble-rousers don’t really want to attend Columbia University — a place with policies they “refuse to accept” — but a different university that better aligns with their moral malformation. Or perhaps they would like to attend an institution in which the students teach the faculty. In that sense, the situation is akin to theatergoers refusing to pay for their seat unless the manager switches out the advertised movie for another they would prefer to watch instead.

It also seems these students don’t understand their position with relation to the faculty. “The student is not above the teacher” (Matthew 10:24). Yet these students, who pay the university for an education, are demanding that the people who govern it remove themselves from that position of authority. In another sense, the situation is like holiday-season temp workers demanding that the CEO step down over a recent business decision. Or it’s like a group of White House interns — unpaid, unelected, temporary staff, with no decision-making authority — criticizing the president’s foreign policy. (Not that that would ever happen, right?)

Presumably, young people attend universities to learn, which implies they don’t know things that they need to know. Presumably, the people running universities understand what students need to learn and how to teach it to them. Indeed, Columbia University’s 24-member Board of Trustees is studded with people who have been quite successful in business, medicine, and other fields. The students calling for their removal have a demonstrated proficiency in — what? Google docs? Left-wing street activism? Students who attempt to dictate moral stances to the people in charge of their education clearly don’t believe they have anything left to learn from these people.

The question is, why are such students attending a university at all? If they know everything already, they could save themselves $20,000 a semester (their estimate) and free up a highly competitive slot for another young person who would actually benefit by the education.

Unless, of course, Columbia University’s education has strayed so far from its mission that this is how it teaches students to behave. “I think the students at these colleges are getting the bad ideas from the grown-ups, from the faculty members,” said Stoll.

In case their demand to take control of university policies wasn’t clear enough, the students demanded the university submit its endowments to a binding referendum of students, in which 50% of students plus one could force the university sell off all its pro-Israel investments. It doesn’t take much imagination to foresee how such a vote would turn out. Zealous, well-organized, left-wing activists would initiate a breathless and probably misleading campaign to promote the measure, while intimidating their opponents — if there are any — into silence.

To make this proposition even worse, according to the Left’s boycott rules, Columbia would be forced to divest not only from Israeli companies but from any company the Left believes has ever done anything pro-Israel, such as that bastion of Zionism (note the obvious sarcasm) Starbucks. From this moment on, the organization’s considerable wealth would be managed not according to principles of financial prudence, but according to principles of ideological purity. As anyone knows who has ever interacted with college students or their smaller prototypes, children, submitting major financial decisions to a simple majority vote of people with little experience managing money is dangerous — one might even say, unwise.

The protestors also demanded information on the university’s Public Safety department, ranging from their training, responsibilities, and powers to where the security cameras were located on campus. The obvious purpose of these demands is for protest organizers to devise methods of impeding or evading security attempts to restrain their sometimes-violent, sometimes-unsanctioned protests. To further undermine the university’s ability to restrain protests, they demanded “that Columbia University cease contact with and outreach to the NYPD for the purposes of crowd control and protest support.” These inmates want total control of the asylum.

To some extent, the groups admit that their demands would cause Columbia financial hardship, but that’s why they have chosen such a costly strategy to extort change. “Our demands would require Columbia to give up millions of dollars in revenue,” they said. “The only way to get Columbia to agree to this will be to make the cost of not conceding [to] our demands higher than the cost of conceding [to] our demands.”

The student groups plan to launch their tuition strike if they reach a critical mass of “at least 1,000 students,” or “about 10% of the tuition-paying student body.” They estimate “a tuition strike of this size would entail a $20 million loss in revenue for the university,” which they hope will force the university to the negotiating table before the semester is out.

“The only institutional consequence of late tuition payments is an inability to register for classes with outstanding fees exceeding $1,000. We don’t anticipate the tuition strike lasting until Fall ‘24 class registration, and we will cross that bridge if it comes to that,” they said. There is also a $150 late fee, plus an additional 1.5% monthly charge on the past due balance, but the striking student groups believe, “if our strike is successful, then we will have the power to force the university to forgive those late fees as a condition of ending the tuition strike.”

As to reputational consequences, the striking groups comforted skeptical students that Columbia University will “have no way of differentiating between students striking tuition and students who haven’t made their tuition payments for other reasons, and therefore no way to individually isolate strikers.”

These students have gambled quite a bit on their tuition strike succeeding without any hiccups. Is that a safe bet?

Columbia University had a total endowment of $13.6 billion on June 30, 2023. For fiscal year 2023, its operating revenue was $6.2 billion, and its operating expenses (including salaries, wages, and benefits) were $5.9 billion, for an operating surplus of $300 million. If 1,000 students withheld $20 million in tuition, it wouldn’t exactly drive the university over a fiscal cliff. That’s without factoring in the corresponding drop in instructional costs or a compensating rise in tuition from admitting more students who actually want to be there. If Columbia really wanted to, it could outlast students’ four-year stint at the university, not to mention their one-semester gamble.

But the organizers believe they have a track record to guarantee success. “In 2020, students at Columbia and UChicago organized tuition strikes. Each strike had thousands of students signed on, and both strikes resulted in a tuition freeze,” they argued.

Of course, that was a very different fight. New York City’s strict lockdown policies offered a steeply diminished college experience during the COVID year, and Columbia University couldn’t reasonably expect to convince students to pay more for that. A tuition strike to obtain a tuition freeze is far different from a tuition strike to obtain a hostile takeover of a university’s investment portfolio, trustee board, and Public Safety department.

These aren’t even the extent of the demands Columbia’s radical student groups have in mind. “If more than half of all students go on tuition strike,” they suggested, “we would be in a position to make even greater demands.”

The arrogance of these student groups is shocking. They apparently believe that they are entitled to upend these prestigious institutions, forcing change from the lowest position on the organizational chart. They apparently also believe that these centuries-old universities currently exist simply to fulfill their own personal ambitions and goals. Apparently, no one ever taught them otherwise.

I don’t know if this was their parents’ fault; many teachers now systematically steal away children’s hearts from their parents’ worldview. But it should be a warning to parents: try to train your children to submit to authority, not to dismiss it. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority,” Peter exhorted his readers (1 Peter 2:13).

I do know that every child’s heart is naturally rebellious and must be trained to obey. Not only does the entire Bible establish this point, but I also have a one-year-old child.

Last week, he devised his cleverest plan yet to avoid going to bed. After finishing his milk, he sat up in my lap, pointed at the sound machine we always play as he goes to sleep, and made the hand-sign we taught him for “all done.” He was “all done” with bedtime before he ever went to sleep. The plan was clever and cute, and I wanted to give in. But he wasn’t successful, because I am his father, and I knew that he needed to go to sleep. The point is, giving our kids what is best often means we have to stand up to their demands for something that isn’t in their best interest, when they think the whole world revolves around them.

The same, self-centered rebellion in the heart of my mostly pre-verbal one-year-old is on display in the careless demands of radical student groups at Columbia University. It will remain in every child’s foolish heart until parents train it away. If Columbia’s administration and trustees know what is best, they will resist these demands and teach the students some valuable life lessons in the process. Whether they will do so in this egalitarian, anti-authority age remains to be seen.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.