Appeasement at Emerson College

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Emerson College is a private, liberal arts university located in the heart of Boston. It has an undergraduate enrollment of about 4,000 students. Its Students for Justice in Palestine chapter has more than 6,000 followers.

Like several other schools around the country, campus life at Emerson was disrupted shortly after Oct. 7 by anti-Israel protests, complete with “student” encampments, harassment of Jewish students, antisemitic graffiti and orchestrated chants of “Long live the Intifada” and other pro-Hamas and anti-Israel slogans.

Earlier this month, as part of an increasing effort by universities to address the disruption of the protest activities, police were asked to clear the “Gaza solidarity encampment” on Emerson’s campus. They did. In the process, 118 protesters were arrested.


Jay Bernhardt, the president of Emerson since June 2023, is Jewish. In response to the very evacuation order that his administration directed and the predictable arrests of protesters who refused police direction to disband, Bernhardt sent a breathtaking campuswide email, assuring students that Emerson College “has continued to be supportive in multiple ways — sending staff to all the precincts and posting bail for arrested students, canceling and modifying classes so that our community could process what had occurred, and providing additional care and support for our community to heal.”

And just to make sure that his appeasement was clear, Bernhardt went on to say that “The College will not bring any campus disciplinary charges against the protesters and will encourage the district attorney not to pursue charges related to encampment violations.”
Bernhardt’s actions are an embarrassment. He is supposed to be the president of an educational institution, not a bail bondsman. His job is to help provide educational opportunities for his school’s students and to provide them with a safe, welcoming, non-discriminatory environment to pursue their studies.

In the process, he should work to uphold the law rather than pandering to those who break the law, promote hate and antisemitic activity, interfere with the school’s educational program and jeopardize the safety of the school’s Jewish students.

Bernhardt may be surprised to learn that, according to a Generation Lab survey of college students around the country that was released last week, 81% of college students support holding protesters accountable, and agree that those who destroy property, vandalize or illegally occupy university property or buildings should be held responsible for their actions. Further, 67% say occupying campus buildings is unacceptable, and 58% say it’s not acceptable to refuse a university’s order to disperse.

While we continue to support free speech and the right of protesters to express their views, we draw the line at hate speech, provocation, harassment, intimidation, trespass, destruction of property and interference with the ability of others to go about their lives.

If Bernhardt used his own money to post bond for students arrested on his campus, we question his judgment but respect the fact that he may believe so strongly in the pro-Hamas agenda that he is willing to put his money where his mouth is. But if he used Emerson College funds for his bail bond antics, we encourage the Emerson board and the District Attorney to look into the matter, to determine the legality of his activity.

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