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Punish students for anti-Israel encampments, 3 in 4 Americans say

Campus protesters have not swayed many opinions either, poll finds

Nearly three in four Americans want to see anti-Israel protesters punished for the encampments that they erected on campuses across the nation this spring, according to a new poll.

The poll from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression also found the protesters did not sway many Americans’ opinions toward their cause.

Conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, the poll found 73 percent of Americans say student protesters should be punished for participating in the encampments, with 18 percent saying they should be expelled.

In contrast, 23 percent said they should not be disciplined.

Many higher education institutions have policies that prohibit overnight encampments on campus grounds.

“Public colleges and universities can usually ban encampments without violating the First Amendment, so long as the ban serves a reasonable purpose, enforcement is consistent and viewpoint-neutral, and students maintain other avenues for expressing themselves,” FIRE Director of Campus Rights Advocacy Lindsie Rank said in a statement emailed to The College Fix.

However, it is a problem when universities “punish students just because administrators don’t agree with the viewpoint being expressed at the encampment,” Rank said.

The poll also found two in three (63 percent) said the protesters did not change “their level of sympathy for Palestinians in Gaza,” according to a news release.

Of the few who said the protesters’ cause did impact their thinking, 17 percent said they sympathized less with Palestinians, while 16 percent said they sympathized more.

Attitudes toward colleges and universities did change, however. According to the news release:

FIRE’s poll also shows that American confidence in colleges and universities continues to slip. Only 28% of respondents said that they have either a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in U.S. colleges and universities. By comparison, 36% of Americans told Gallup in summer 2023 that they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in higher education in the U.S.

Additionally, the poll found overwhelming opposition to illegal activities by protesters, including 80 percent who said defacing school property is “never” acceptable even as an act of protest.

Hundreds of protesters have been arrested on college campuses within the past year in relation to pro-Palestinian protests. Some institutions suspended, expelled, or withheld degrees from students and campus organizations.

However, other university leaders faced criticism for being too lenient.

At Portland State University in May, administrators promised not to punish protesters who were occupying the library if they agreed to leave, The College Fix reported. Images showed massive damage to the building, including garbage and graffiti spraypainted over walls, books, and other objects.

Northwestern University is facing a U.S. Congressional probe after its president, Michael Schill, made a deal with pro-Palestinian protesters that included five full scholarships to Palestinian students, The Fix reported.

MORE: ‘Disgraceful’: Rep. Foxx criticizes Northwestern for deal with pro-Palestinian activists

IMAGE: Jon Baird/X

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.