May 17, 2024

A Moral, Ethical and Legal Failure at the University of Washington

This has been a sober period for the University of Washington, diminishing the institution in profound and important ways.

Today, the UW caved to several of the demands of a group of pro-Hamas students and their antifa/activist allies.

This group of activists has:

(1) Established an illegal encampment on the UW campus
(2) Caused hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage, including painting graffiti over many buildings
(3)  Took over the administration building during Chanukah
(4)   Attacked and threatened Jewish students on campus and painted antisemitic messages on buildings.
(5)  Physically hurt and intercepted media representatives trying to cover the situation. 
(6)  Closed off portions of campus and interrupted classes.
(7) Attacked faculty and others who visited the encampment.

To illustrate the seriousness of the situation, consider the statue of George Washington that was painted with a threat to kill Jews (known as colonizers by the encampment group).

Not only were the pro-Hamas group threatening and hurting people, breaking the law, ruining campus buildings, causing massive damage to the UW, and guilty of antisemitic acts, but they also made huge demands on the UW administration, such as breaking relations with Boeing, breaking all relations with Israel, divesting from Israel, giving scholarships to Palestinian students, and much more.

And UW President Ana Mari Cauce, in a statement that was weak and inappropriate, gave in to several of the demands.

In the deal to end the encampment, UW agrees not to proceed against students who were illegally camping on campus, will hire a Palestine studies faculty member, pay for the education of 20 students from Gaza, invite representatives of this group to review the UW's investment policies, and much more.

In short, break the law, threaten people, promote rabid antisemitism, and massively damage the UW, and not only do you not face legal restraints but you are rewarded.  A very bad look.

But it is even worse than that.

Ana Mari's statement as UW President calls for a ceasefire (totally inappropriate as a UW President), makes accusations that Israel targeted civilians (unfounded), and then talks about Islamophobia, for which there is no evidence at the UW.  The UW President represents the entire, diverse UW community, and it is a state employee, who should NEVER take sides on politically charged issues during official communications.  

Amazingly, there is not a single mention of antisemitism in Ana Mari's statement.  Nor does she mention the barbarism of Oct. 7.

Damage to UW's reputation

The UW administration's handling of this situation has been inept and morally problematic, allowing the situation to fester and increase for weeks.

When a terrorist makes demands, the worst thing is to give in to them.  The inevitable result will be more terror.   UW's weakness allowed the situation to spiral out of control. 

 When you give in to spoiled, immature children they always demand more.  It is revealing that none of the UW activists were picketing around the Boeing facilities of the region.  Nor were they collecting funds and supplies to be sent to Gaza.   And why were they not concerned about the dozen or so other conflicts around the world, several of them leading to vastly more loss of life?

UW's reputation is in tatters.  I have talked to several people who said they would never allow their children to attend UW.   Media coverage has been highly critical and negative (see sample below). The UW "brand" is highly damaged.

A major UW donor told me that his contributions to the UW will end.

Imagine if the UW administration had the wisdom of the leadership of the University of Chicago, which made the decision to remove a similar encampment with little injury or problems (they did it in the middle of the night).  The U Chicago president's statement is found at the bottom of this blog.  Importantly, he talks about the central issue of institutional neutrality on contentious societal issues.   The UW administration knew the situation was becoming increasingly dangerous, as older (and more violent) outsiders were joining the camp.  

An Educational Failure

Perhaps most serious of all, the UW administration threw away a valuable educational opportunity.   Imagine if Ana Mari had ended the encampment on the second day when it was small and easily cleared.  Then she could have announced a series of special lectures in Kane Hall on the history of the Middle East and the conflict.  And she could have established a series of fact-based debates on the conflict and how to proceed. 

Students would have learned that although freedom of speech is supported, breaking the law is not accepted in a free society.  For contentious issues, we need to take special care to learn the facts and to expose ourselves to different viewpoints.  THIS is what the university is supposedly all about.

Ana Mari Cauce would have been hailed as a visionary and much of the destruction could been avoided.

The University of Washington has been greatly damaged, and it did not have to be this way.

A reason for all Huskies to be sad this weekend.


Statement of the President of the University of Chicago (reprinted)

By Paul Alivisatos

May 7, 2024 5:01 pm ET


As president of the University of Chicago, I ended the encampment that occupied the University’s Main Quad for more than a week. The Tuesday morning action resulted in no arrests. Recent months have seen tremendous contention over protests on campuses, including pressure campaigns from every direction. That made this a decision of enormous import for the university.

When the encampment formed on our campus, I said I would uphold the university’s principles and resist the forces tearing at the fabric of higher education. I didn’t direct immediate action against the encampment. I authorized discussions with the protesters regarding an end to the encampment in response to some of their demands. But when I concluded that the essential goals that animated those demands were incompatible with deep principles of the university, I decided to end the encampment with intervention.

Some universities have chosen to block encampments from forming at all or ended them within an hour or so. We had the means to do so. Immediate intervention is consistent with enforcing reasonable regulations on the time, place and manner of speech, and it has the advantage of minimizing disruption. Yet strict adherence to every policy—the suppression of discord to promote harmony—comes at a cost. Discord is almost required for the truth-seeking function of a university to be genuine.

Protest is a strongly protected form of speech in the University of Chicago culture, enshrined in the Chicago Principles for a reason. In times of discord, protest serves as a mechanism for democratic societies, and places of reason like universities, to find a way back toward dialogue and compromise. This has value even if protests result in disruption or violate the rules—up to a point. When a protest substantially interferes with the learning, research and operations of the university, when it meaningfully diminishes the free-expression rights of others—as happened with this encampment—then it must come to an end, through dialogue or intervention.

Therefore, it was a crucial decision whether to seek a dialogue to resolve a disruptive protest. Some will argue that the moral hazard of even holding such discussions is so severe that they should never be undertaken at all—that no agreement could possibly be legitimate if it originated from these circumstances. Others will say such dialogue should always be sought. I believe dialogue may be appropriate under certain circumstances, provided that protesters come to it openly with an understanding that the consequences of their policy violations will be reviewed evenhandedly. The same applies to discipline now that the encampment has ended.

So I authorized the opening of dialogue with the protesters, even though that extended the number of days the university was disrupted. I won’t describe the sequence or the content of those discussions, since we agreed that our exchanges would remain private unless and until we reached a favorable conclusion. During our substantive dialogue, there were some very difficult moments, but also moments of progress. The student-protester representatives offered analytical arguments and made powerful statements; their faculty representatives and liaisons also made important contributions. I believe that the administration representatives showed respect for their interlocutors and came to the discussions with genuine openness and a willingness to look for ways to make it work.

Why then didn’t we reach a resolution? Because at the core of the demands was what I believe is a deep disagreement about a principle, one that can’t be papered over with carefully crafted words, creative adjustments to programming, or any other negotiable remedy.

The disagreement revolves around institutional neutrality—a foundational value to the University of Chicago. It is a principle animated by the idea that authority can’t establish truth for an entire institution dedicated to truth-seeking; rather, it is the imperative of individuals to seek truth without being limited by authority. Institutional neutrality vests freedom of inquiry and speech directly in faculty and students, where it belongs.

Underpinning the demands was a call for the university to diminish ties with Israel and increase ties with the Palestinians in Gaza. In short, the protesters were determined that the university should take sides in the conflict in Israel and Gaza. Other demands would have led to having political goals guide core aspects of the university’s institutional approaches, from how we invest our endowment to when and how I make statements. Faculty members and students are more than free to engage in advocacy on one side or the other. But if the university did so as an institution, it would no longer be much of a university.

As the depth of this philosophical difference became clearer, I decided to end the dialogue. I yielded on some time, place and manner policies and allowed some degree of disruption in favor of protest, regardless of viewpoint; engaged in dialogue with those who were disrupting the university so long as they were prepared to face discipline. But there is no way I would ever compromise on institutional neutrality.

Mr. Alivisatos is president of the University of Chicago.


  1. UW President Ana Mari Cauce is responsible for ALL of the damage at the UW. It's unlikely that insurance will cover the repair bill since she failed to act to remove the barbarians occupying the campus. If she had evicted these barbarians as soon as they set up camp, the damage would be minimal. She must pay to repair the campus out of her own pocket and be tossed into the unemployment line without a golden parachute nor any pension benefits.

    All of the "studies" departments must be shut down and the administrative staff gutted. A 90% reduction in staff and a 90% cut in presidential pay sounds about right. End all of the DEI (Didn't Earn It) b.s. which is a violation of the 14thA and I-200.

    Return the campus to sanity.

  2. All funding needs to be stopped to the UW, this will all end up with lives lost just like Chop during "the summer of love"

  3. What even happened to America?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. The reactionary nonsense in this post is so blatantly bad that it makes me start to question everything you post, even things that you should understand, like weather. You're letting your anger replace your rationality, and it's sad to watch your descent.

    1. Booger....what is "reactionary" in my post? What is "irrational"? My emotion is deep sadness, not anger..A great institution is now greatly diminished....cliff

    2. I also have a problem with a lot of what happened on campus, by the way. My "anger" comment may have been off-target. But calling all of the protesters pro-Hamas and implying that any opposition to the actions of the Isreali government is antisemitic is very reactionary and irrational.

    3. I think Cliff is talking about the protestors that are breaking the law. While you and I likely do not agree on much, I am a free speech absolutist - even for people that are pro-Hamas. However, you can't use free speech as an excuse to break the law, obviously. If there was no destruction/graffiti, illegal camping, threats etc we would be having a different conversation.

  5. These people are completely out of control, I cannot believe this is allowed to happen on campuses.

  6. "With the tools of democracy, democracy was murdered and lawlessness made ‘legal.’ Raw power ruled, and its only real goal was to destroy all other powers besides itself.”

    Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, April 2010

  7. Thank you for posting the University of Chicago President's statement. Very helpful for perspective.

  8. Hearing about protestings on campuses across this nation, it kind of feels like 1968 all over again, this time for the Hamas war and anti antisemitism, instead of Vietnam then.

    I have studied that era off and on and wrote my thoughts some 30 years ago, though for a class I was taking at SCCC in the mid 90's, my overall stance is then, as now is that violent protesting and radicalism does not get things solved, it often means more resistance from the other side than is expected, especially among the more radical left or right students. Back in the late 60's society as a whole fought back against this radicalism, as they should and in the end, being radicalized does not solve anything, only makes this worse all of us.

    The Yippies (Youth International Party), and Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman were part of that group, that later became the Chicago 7 when that case went to trial later on. Jerry was leaning I believe left at the time (Abbie too) as he was a social activist, much like Sawant was/is for the Seattle City Counsel.

    As someone who considers himself a centrist, but does lean a bit left, I despise the extremes on either end and they want pretty much the same thing, to rule the world ultimately, but take different paths to get there.

    I have an even more insidious hate for the right wing, seeing as how that has played out with republicans, maga etc, and of course, Trump. The left can be even more insidious by being more covert about their objective than the right and fortunately, it seems most have not followed the left's ideology as much, yet.

    Unfortunately folks like Jerry Falwell Sr paved the way for the fundamentalist/evangelist churches to get in bed with the republicans (and a voice) some 45 years earlier in 1969, according to the radio host of Evening Edition when Jerry Sr died suddenly at 70 back in 2007, and that was what was said as I drove home from work one late afternoon.

    So while I'm "too old" to participate, it also is not my nature to do so anyway, it's a part of our history as a nation and thus should not forget it, the Coup in 2021 on our Capitol is reprehensible, and I have no strong feelings about the war in Hamas, as likely both sides may have some good points in their arguments, but killing folks is not one of them, but destroying our college campuses etc is not how to have a sensible dialog over a war we generally have nothing to do with, outside of humanitarian aid where needed. Mind you I don't keep up on that, let alone the war in Russia, outside of the occasional story. I'm worried now about our own country and its future if we don't get the orange scurge under control.

    Sometimes in the 70's he mellowed out and left all that behind, becoming a successful business man.

  9. The essence of leftist protesting has never been to educate or dialogue. The exercise is designed to disrupt, provoke a police response and in the melee, draw more protesters and spark what leninists call a "revolutionary moment." This is sadly true of the civil rights protests, which is why so many otherwise thoughtful people cannot bring themselves to recognize that nearly all modern protests are a form of undemocratic bullying.

  10. Gee, as an outsider trying to make sense of this, here’s what I see:

    On May 15th Dr. Cauce wrote:

    "Much to my dismay, given the relatively cordial tone of many of our discussions, the representatives also said the new graffiti is an intentional escalation to compel the University to agree to their demands.

    ...The situation now is untenable. I’ll reiterate: The University’s response to students’ calls for change will not be based on an encampment — there are many ways for voices to be heard that don’t require tents, violent rhetoric and vandalism. "

    Ok. That’s a guiding principle. Are there more? Another was soon in coming from Dr. Cauce’s May 17th blog post:

    “… I and other University leaders continued to engage in dialogue to achieve a resolution that would result in the encampment’s voluntary departure in order to avoid the need for police interventions like those we have seen at other universities.”

    Umm, in this contest between the protestors and the University Administration, the Administration seems to have conflicting priorities. So, as sports fans say, who won?
    Well, let’s see. The protesters came away with the University committing to 14 steps and calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The University got … the protesters agreeing to leave the Quad … soon.

    Who do you think won?

  11. During the Occupy Wall Street protests in various cities a decade ‘n some ago I was adjunct faculty at a community college. The students told me exactly which professors were awarding credit to participate in those protests.

  12. Great summary Cliff - this should be a guest editorial in the Seattle Times, but oh wait, you are the enemies list for your criticism of their Climate Lab. Thanks for being the "boots on the ground" so we can get the unfettered account of the moral failures at the UW.

  13. How can people go about completely losing all of their credibility AND make asinine fools of themselves, both at the same time? These protesters are showing us the way!

  14. I find the statements portrayed in the pictures in this post deeply concerning.

    I think it is extremely dissapointing that the leadership of the university were willing to cave to the demands of these people. Todays students are tomorrows leaders.

    History is full of examples that show that ideas and philospophies like this can lead to very dark places.

    "Gradually, the unthinkable becomes tolerable, then acceptable, then legal, then praised."


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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