The Campus Speech vs. Safety Tightrope: A Conversation with Fred Lawrence


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired May 13, 2024

In a special episode, Fred Lawrence, secretary and CEO of Phi Beta Kappa, returns to dotEDU to help explain how tensions between free speech and campus safety can lead to the unrest happening at some campuses in response to the war in Gaza. He also addresses how campus communities of different viewpoints can and should move forward to address hostilities before crises start.

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

How Campus Protests of the Past May Inform Pro-Palestinian Student Demonstrations
ABC News | May 6, 2024 

Negotiate? Call in the Police? University Presidents Try Range of Tactics as Protests Roil Campuses
The Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) | May 1, 2024 

How Student Protests Are Changing College Graduations
NPR | May 7, 2024

Hosts and Guests

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Hello, and welcome to this special episode of dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council in Education. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith, and I'm joined by my co-hosts, Sarah Spreitzer and Mushtaq Gunja. Hey, guys.

Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, Jon. Looking forward to this important discussion.

Mushtaq Gunja: Hey, Jon. Hey, Sarah. Yeah, can't wait.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. The discussion we will be having is one that's both I think very timely and very relevant to our audience as people are undoubtedly aware if you're listening to this podcast, over the last few months, there has been rising tensions on college campuses around the Israel-Gaza conflict, and in particular with protests on campus related to that. And especially in recent weeks, those protests have become more intense, certainly much more in the public eye. Certainly it's not every campus. I think according to The Chronicle of Higher Education as we record this, it's about 90 campuses where these protests are taking place. But certainly the fact that it's 90 institutions and the scale of the issues that they raise, very significant and very obviously influential in terms of the current higher education policy environment. We're fortunate to be joined by really an exceptional guest and an exceptional voice on these issues to talk through them with us today. Fred, Frederick Lawrence, goes by Fred. Your name is not actually Fred Frederick Lawrence, I should be clear.

Frederick Lawrence: Right.

Jon Fansmith: As the 10th secretary and CEO of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation's first and most prestigious honor society, which was founded in 1776 along with our country. Fred is a distinguished lecturer at the Georgetown Law Center where he is colleagues with our co-host, Mushtaq. He has previously served as the president of Brandeis University, the dean of the George Washington University School of Law, I should say the George Washington University Law School, and visiting professor and senior research scholar at Yale Law School. Fred is one of the nation's leading experts on civil rights, free expression, bias crimes in particularly higher education law. Fred, we are certainly very honored to have you. Welcome to the podcast

Frederick Lawrence: Pleasure to be back with you. This is my second time on the podcast, and I'm delighted to be with you and particularly given all the things happening in higher ed, this is a great opportunity to spend some time together.

Jon Fansmith: It is a great time to have you here, and I think given the subject of our podcast, which is campus unrest, certainly something top of mind for college leaders right now, certainly top of mind for our audience. You are an exceptional guest to have on to talk about this. I think just right off the bat, one of the things really as we look at this issue is this constant tension between safety on a campus and the academic freedom. We know those aren't unusual, it's not uncommon, but maybe the situation's different this time and do you think so? If so, how?

Frederick Lawrence: The tension as you describe it between free expression and academic freedom, as our mutual friend, Ted Mitchell, likes to say, "It's not a problem to be solved, it's a balance or attention to be managed." I think what that captures is that there's a misunderstanding when we think about balancing the needs of free expression and safety. They're both core concerns for a university president. The problem is when you put them in the same level, then you wind up putting them in the balance. When you're in the balance, and particularly in times of crisis, safety almost always wins out and at the expense of free expression. I think a better way to recalibrate this discussion is to say that safety, as important as it is, is not the fundamental goal of a university. Universities don't exist to be safe. Universities have to be safe, but they have to be safe in order to fulfill their fundamental goal.

Safety is instrumental. What's fundamental is the creation and discovery of knowledge and the dissemination of knowledge. When you think of it that way, then you start thinking about free expression, free inquiry, academic freedom, all going into the fundamental side. It helps you remember that when you see campus protests, your first instinct can't be this is a threat to safety. It may be a threat to safety, and you're going to have to think about that. You're going to have to weigh that carefully and think about all the ways it has to be regulated, maybe even stopped. But your first thought is that it's a form of campus expression, and that means your first thought has got to be that it has to be protected so long as that is consistent with the overall operation of the institution.

Jon Fansmith: Fred, one of the things we keep seeing in the media coverage of this is references to previous periods of unrest on campuses. The Vietnam War, the South African... The disinvestment strategy against apartheid, certainly around the Gulf War and other areas like that. Is this moment basically a reflection of those previous periods? Is this somehow unique and new to itself? Looking across this pretty full history of campus unrest and protest, are we in a different moment?

Frederick Lawrence: There are a lot of similarities to past moments. The ones that you're dealing with at any particular time always seem unique because they're the ones you're dealing with at that moment, so I think it's important to take a step back and say there's a lot we can learn from past experiences and that in many ways this has got similarities particularly to late '60s, early '70s. There's been a lot of talk about that at Columbia. After all, Columbia is now in the eye of the storm now. They were very much in the eye of the storm in the late '60s, but I think there are a number of ways in which this one is noticeably different. One, which we're really just really getting the grip on, is that this one involves more tension within the family than past ones have. I don't want to suggest in the late '60s everybody was on the same side, but I think that campus culture tended to be in one direction.

The students who were in Reserve Officers' Training Corps or ROTC felt separate from that when it was a protest against the Vietnam War, but the campus very much felt on most of these schools as if it was protesting the Vietnam War. It was we protesting against something happening out there. South Africa, very much the same. I think by the way, that's all a little overwritten. I think there were many people on campuses who did not share those views, but they tended to be much quieter at that time. At least on campus they did. Now you have different sides right on campus, sometimes literally with protests next to each other, sometimes very delicately.

We've got protests literally next to each other and where the concern is not just tempers flaring but actual danger, violence erupting between groups. One thing is that you've got people on different sides of the issue within the university community. That's a big difference. Second is so obvious that it almost is easy to miss is the role that social media does play. Easier to organize. Easier to get more people to come to something. Easier to spread information faster. Easier to spread misinformation faster. Easier for things that are happening thousands of miles away to feel very current, and last but by certainly no means least, easier for people from off campus to come to campus and be engaged in some of these activities, which is a challenge all by itself. I think that has played a major role as well.

The third one is the one in which I have the least confidence because I'm not sure I fully understand it yet, but I just want to share the thoughts on it, and that is this generation has been through a lot. This is the generation who lost their high school years to COVID, or in the case of graduate students, their college years to COVID. This is a generation that grew up doing active shooter drills. Some of them are ones who went through active shooter situations. This is the generation that has grown up with the shadow of climate change. I think there are many attitudes with many of them that the people in charge have let us down and let us down and let us down. There's active shooters and you don't do anything about guns.

There's climate change, you don't do anything about controls that would affect that. I think there is a boiling point this generation that... It's not like my generation didn't have its boiling point in the civil rights movement, in the Vietnam War era. I think there was a sense in which we held those in positions of responsibility accountable, but we held them accountable to what we thought they should be doing. That is to say we thought they were not making the mark. We thought administrations were supposed to do something and they were not hitting that mark. I suspect a lot of our students today have long since given up thinking that people in positions of power have a mark to hit. I think that there is a sense of lack of faith, lack of trust, and that's boiling over in a way as well.

Mushtaq Gunja: Can I pull on a couple of those threads, Fred? So many interesting reflections just on that last piece of this is a generation that has felt like things just aren't working well for them. I just finished rereading David Halberstam's wonderful book, The Fifties, which really set the stage for all the things that happened in the '60s. I wonder if at least part of what we're hearing a little bit of an echo of what happened on campus in the '60s with the protests here, at least with the disaffection of the generation. I wonder, Fred, you started by talking about the place and importance of a university and the mission of disseminating knowledge, the importance of free expression. Then you noted that the protests are part of that, are included in the concept of this dissemination of knowledge. It's an interesting concept. I'm not totally sure that everybody out in the media ecosystem would agree with that. I just wonder if you want to drill in a little bit there?

Frederick Lawrence: Part of the reason they might not agree with it is that a lot of what comes up in these protests and all protests is not exactly well thought out. A lot of the assertions that are being made are not in fact well-grounded and would have a hard time being able to be put together in a peer-reviewed paper for a faculty member or a seminar paper for a student. One of the reasons that I object to a first impulse to punish demonstrations is that if we think that these are based on ignorance, then we're falling into an area that universities actually are pretty good at, which is education. You'll never punish your way out of ignorance.

You will hopefully educate your way out of ignorance. That's what we do, so that's when we've got at least a claim to being engaged in. I would not so much say that the demonstrations are directly producing knowledge per se, but the goal of producing knowledge, discovering knowledge and disseminating knowledge, which is at the heart of the academic enterprise, requires robust free expression, requires robust opportunity to inquire, to ask questions, to push boundaries, to try out ideas. Some of them are good ones, some of them are bad ones. I've always told my students, and for that matter every team I've supervised, if all your ideas are good ideas, you don't have enough ideas.

Some of your ideas aren't going to be good ones. But if you self-censor all your ideas that you think are bad ones, some of them are bad and you did well to self-censor them. But some of the ones you'll leave on the floor will be some of the best ideas you ever had, or they would be the germ of the best idea you ever had that somebody else in a meeting would've said, "Yeah. That's not quite it," but what if you thought of it this way? We don't people self-censoring, we don't want students self-censoring. We think that part of their experience as students is to ask hard questions and to try out different ideas, and to do that in lots of ways up to and including a protest demonstration to make a case in the most dramatic form.

Mushtaq Gunja: Fred, you mentioned in passing this idea that there are students at these protests, that there might be outsiders, in the words of some, "Outside agitators." I wonder what impact do you think outside forces might have on how we think about how to deal with these protests on campus? I have to say, I'm unclear in my mind how important it is that these protests are made up of both students and non-students. I'm not sure what difference that should make for our campuses. What do you think?

Frederick Lawrence: I think it does make a difference. In large measure, I think part of the reaction to protest should always be at first pass... It may not wind up this way. You may wind up going into the punitive form and you may even have to go off campus and bring in law enforcement. It could come to that, but you don't start with that. You start in the educative mode. That's why I think those campuses where administrators or faculty have talked to students, walked the demonstrations, been engaged with them, brought them into meetings, had discussions with them. Sometimes those meetings go well, sometimes they don't go well. This is not unique to campus demonstrations. This is what's involved in all tense discussions that involve complicated questions. That is the right way to start. I do think that's harder in some instances to do with people off campus who are not part of the campus community and who do not have any goal or investment in making something work on the campus community.

I'm often asked, "What's the best way to prepare for an event like this?" I'm not trying to be facetious when I say if you're asking that question, it's probably already too late. The preparation for an event like what's been happening in the past few months takes place months and in some cases years ago. The time you spend with student leaders, and by you I mean student affairs people obviously. But yes, I mean the provost and the president as well, so that by the time the event happens, by the time the crisis happens, you are not reaching out and saying, "Hi, I'm so sorry we haven't had a chance to meet, but I'd love to talk to you about this," in which case, you've got no credibility at all to start that conversation.

But you can call up a student, you can bring in a student and you can say, "Look, I'm going to need your help on this one. I'm going to need some street cred out there. You and I have talked about this issue and that issue and the issue before that. You know where I'm coming from on this, and we're not in the same place on 100 percent of the issues, but we've got enough commonality here that I need your help on this." A smart student leader hears a president saying that and says, "That means he's going to help me in some way," and also probably understands I can't ask for what I can't get, but maybe there's something I can get. Then a much more productive discussion happens. I actually have some confidence in many campuses that that can happen. I have tremendous confidence that's happening on many campuses right now that don't have problems, and why don't we know about this? We're not talking about that because we're focusing on places that have problems.

I just heard from one president who said, "No, our campus doesn't have these problems because our students care too much about each other." It's a beautiful phrase, but that doesn't happen all by itself. They don't just make sure the admissions office brings in nice people, this is a campus culture. Culture is real and they're making that happen. It can be done, but again, if there are not people from campus, it's going to be not just harder to do that, it's going to kind of be impossible to do that, A) because you don't have the relationships, they're not your students, and B) and maybe more important for some of them, the idea of blowing up something on campus, figuratively, God forbid literally, is part of the purpose.

Sarah Spreitzer: Fred, that really sets me up for what I was going to ask, which is how to prepare for this type of thing as a president? Of course we always can think of really great ideas after the fact, but if a president doesn't have those relationships or is suddenly caught unaware by how big this is going to get, how do they calm tensions on the campus community? Then as a former president yourself, when do you make that decision to call in say local police or are the presidents having those discussions with local and community leaders about what's happening at their campus?

Frederick Lawrence: Take a step back to first principles for a second here. I said at the beginning that protest is a form of expression, and that where appropriate, it should be protected. Now let's push on those bounds a little bit. When is it not appropriate? When does it run out? Because that's got something to do with how you prepare. For me, the two main categories where it crosses a line, one is that expressive behavior that threatens another. I don't mean hurt somebody's feelings, I don't mean confounds them, but I mean threatens another person. That crosses a line. That's not permissible. That is at least worthy of being sanctioned on campus, and it is in certain instances worthy of attention by law enforcement. You can't threaten people, and you can't put people in imminent fear. The other main category is the interference with the operation of the campus.

Again, let's be clear on what that means. It doesn't mean inconveniences. Clearly, if there's an encampment in a quad, it is harder to walk from one end of the quad to the other. Let's even dial it up a notch. Clearly, if there's an encampment in a quad and they are saying pretty sharp things about a particular issue, and it's an issue in which I as a student have a different view, then for me walking across that quad just got a lot more difficult. I understand that. It is unpleasant and it is more difficult, and that is an unpleasantness and a difficulty that is part of the price of living in a free society as hard as that is. There are other ways of trying to address that on campus than prohibiting the speech. On this one, I go back to my touchstone, my great hero, Louis Brandeis, who a long time ago, over a century, said, "In the absence of incitement of imminent lawless activity, the answer to bad speech," or we might rephrase it and say speech with which you disagree, "is not enforced silence. It's more speech."

I think Brandeis was right then, and he's right now. Now, he did say, "In the absence of incitement of imminent lawless activity," so you can't do that and you can't be threatening people and you can't be actually interfering with the operation of the university. That means if you occupy buildings, you should expect to be sanctioned in some way up to and including discipline on campus or dragged out by law enforcement. What should you do as a university president as you prepare for these things? You always want to be in touch with law enforcement. My public safety team at Brandeis were deputized as they worked closely with the Waltham Police, but I always tried to keep these things on campus before I went off campus if at all possible. When you need to bring in the police, that has to be a last resort.

By the way, last resort also doesn't just mean to discipline the kids, it also means to protect the students. When I was president of Brandeis was the time of the Boston Marathon bombing. Now, we were in lockdown for 24 hours while there was a person hunt to see if they could find these two guys, which they did. But I have to tell you, and I've spoken about this publicly since, that during the last hours of that these were two people who were cornered, who likely could have felt they wanted to go out doing something desperate and a school with a particular Jewish identity would've been a very likely target for a desperate act. It was probably the single hardest day of my professional life, and none of that can show because what you have to show on campus is confidence that we're doing everything we can.

You have to communicate to your community, your broad community. That means the people on campus and the parents not on campus about everything that's happening. I told my head of communications, "You send out something new every hour even if there's nothing new. I do not want parents sitting at home worrying about what's happening. I don't want them calling because they don't know what's happening. I want them knowing if they go to the website, they find out what they need to know." All of this kind of crisis planning has to be in place in advance. We had no plan for what to do in case we're all in a five-township lockdown because of a bombing at the Boston Marathon, but we did have plans in place for what you do for emergencies on campus and how you keep people safe. That's a lot of the safety piece.

Let's go back to the community piece. If you haven't had the chance to build those relationships, I said a moment ago, facetiously, it's probably too late. No, no, no. It's never too late. Start right now. Start today. Right in the middle of this. This is walk right out there. This is going to be one of the hardest conversations we ever had. I need to hear what you're thinking about. Can I give you an example of one that I was involved in last month? I was invited to be at Skidmore College to do what they called a free expression residency. I was on campus for several days. I did a public lecture. I met with faculty. I met with the president's cabinet. I met with student leadership. I did a one-hour meeting with Jewish and Muslim students who had not met as a group since October 7th.

The head of spiritual life on campus had been meeting with all of these students separately, but she asked me to meet with them while I was on campus and I said, "Only if I can do it all together." We spent about 20 minutes a very nice talk. These are lovely young people, and I realized we were getting nowhere because everybody was being very polite. I told them two of my stories, a dear friend of mine who lost his son and daughter on October 7th, one of my former colleagues from Brandeis, and a student of mine from Brandeis who was now in Washington DC who's Palestinian, from Gaza. He wrote a lovely memoir about his time in Gaza. His family's still back there. Those are both my stories, and I can say both of those. I can own both of those, and I can get very emotional talking about both of those.

Then I stopped, and then I let them talk. Now, look, I'm not going to pretend and then it was all fine and we all sang Kumbaya. It was a tense conversation in some ways, there's a lot of anger in that room. That's okay. But I heard from the president not long ago that they are still meeting with those students and that there is, as he likes to say, "Cooperation, not antagonism," and they're trying to move forward. That's one story, one campus, but I believe that that is possible still on many campuses. Some now have gotten so far beyond that that it seems almost inconceivable, so maybe you can't do it today, but it's never too late to start a dialogue.

Mushtaq Gunja: Sure. Summer might be a good... Things might calm down a little bit on campus and we can get ready for orientation and a new class. We might be able to reset in some ways that I think might be able to be helpful to your points. Can I ask, Fred, I very much take Justice Brandeis' inspirational sort of admonitions around…

Frederick Lawrence: There is a but coming here! [laughs]

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, I just think as a law professor, I guess maybe the phrase that comes to my mind is in the First Amendment world are neutral rules of general applicability. On the one hand, I think more speech, wonderful. In general, combating hateful speech with more speech, good. On the other hand, Fred, it feels like our campuses find ourselves in this weird position where in many instances our campuses have rules against encampments. I think what you are advising is don't shut them down as much as you can, but I think what that might mean is ignoring certain rules that are on the books to allow for these sorts of protests. How do you think about this basic problem of neutral rules of general applicability and then the precedents that a president might have to face if they bend or look away, ignore some of those rules?

Frederick Lawrence: Every campus has got time, place and manner rules. That's actually formally part of First Amendment doctrine, so state universities have to think this way. There's a large conflation of approach from private and public schools in this area because most private schools take upon themselves some version of First Amendment protection. This idea of saying neutral time, place and manner rules, all of which are content neutral and all of which are designed to provide opportunities for expression. People forget that time, place and manner rules are not designed to restrict expression. In fact, one of the core principles of time, place and manner is that there are other ways of expressing different things that you want to say. There are schools that have different rules about encampments, and I'm not a pro-encampment person per se. I'm a pro-expression person, and encampment is one way of showing expression. But Princeton, I think it is, has a rule going way back that you can sleep out on the quad but you can't sleep out in a tent, and that's been there for a long time.

If you want to demonstrate, that's what you have to do. That's a neutrally applicable rule. I think if it's applied to everyone, I have no problem with that. I think where there is a problem is where rules have been changed quickly and non-transparently, that's a mistake, that's a problem. But the idea of saying that we need rules that will make for an orderly campus, there's nothing wrong with that. But what you have to ask yourself when you're making those rules, and particularly when you're changing rules in the middle of a crisis, are these rules being changed in a way that is designed to limit expression? If they are, that ought to at least send off a yellow flag, if not a red flag. Or are they being changed in order to try to allow everybody to have a say and to make this situation work?

There's another aspect of this which is almost too prosaic to talk about, but I suspect is lurking behind a lot of this, expression is not cheap. This is the joke about free expression, it's not free. If you're going to have people sleeping out on the quad and you are the president of the university, you can't have them out there without having some campus public safety presence. That's a lot of people out there, and what if something goes wrong? If you want to guess, well, what could go wrong? Look at what happened at UCLA and how long it took before you had people coming to break up a case of what appears to be reasonably serious violence. That's expensive. Now, can a university say, "Therefore we can't do it?" Maybe. But again, what's the question you ask yourself, am I doing this to repress speech or am I doing this for some neutral reason?

Jon Fansmith: I think that's helpful to think about in part because these encampments have really been I think really the flash points of the protests, and the institutional response more so to the encampments in some ways have taken the dominant narrative in media coverage of this. There is no range or no shortage I should say of outside opinions about how college presidents are managing this. I think in particular, we've seen that recently with a number of political figures weighing in on the fitness and judgment and capabilities of college presidents in terms of their handling of these situations. Is it safe to say that that outside narrative, that outside discussion, especially coming from a very specific viewpoint, looking for a very specific outcome, makes a president's decision harder? Makes managing the situation... Those negotiations, those careful, thoughtful, deliberate negotiations that arise from building a culture within a community that supports that, what does that do to that process? What does that look like? It seems that it's not helpful, but you would know better than I.

Frederick Lawrence: Jon, it makes it a lot harder. One of the greatest challenges of being a university president as anybody who's held the job will tell you is the sheer range of constituencies that you have to deal with faculty, you have to deal with students, you have to deal with alumni, you have to deal with the board, you have to deal with the town, for the state universities, you have to deal with your legislatures, sometimes with the governor. You've got this whole range of audiences, and when you add on top of that political figures, at least some of whom do not appear to be doing this with the best interest of the higher education sector in mind, but for other reasons, it makes it enormously more difficult. The only answer I have to that is that another relationship that we haven't been talking about but we should is the relationship between the president and their administration on the one hand and the board on the other.

One of the things that I've done from time to time is met with boards of trustees to do First Amendment workshops or free expression workshops. One of the things that I like to say is that this is exactly the time to have this conversation. We're in a lovely hotel room, usually in some very pleasant place where they have these board retreats. Everybody's come, and there's lots of coffee being served, and this is exactly the time to run through some exercises and talk about how we might handle these because not if, when these challenges come at that moment it is very hard to think clearly. It is very hard to get your bearings. If you're trying to make your decisions on the fly at that moment, that's when you're going to make mistakes.

That's when you need to know here are the rules of engagement, here's what we said. Then when you have something from the outside coming in aimed at the president, it becomes the job of the chair of the board and the rest of the board to rally around the president and say, "No, we are behind this person." If you're not behind this person, then maybe you have to get a different president. No president wants to hear that, but that's an option. We're going to have a president, but we're going to take potshots at the president at the same time that members of Congress do. That's not an acceptable strategy. It's not an acceptable strategy for the most obvious reason but one we always have to come back to because it's not what's best for the university.

At the end of the day, the single best piece of advice I got about being a president came from the great Larry Bacow who was between presidencies of Tufts and Harvard at the time I was at Brandeis. He was and is a great friend and was a great mentor for me. Among Larry's pieces of wisdom was to say that, "Remember, it's not you, it's the chair you're sitting in. As soon as you start thinking it's about you, you're about to make a mistake." It's about the institution that has been placed in your hands. You, the president's hands. You, the board's hands. Those people have to be thinking of that. That's the best insulation I… the outside pressure is not going to stop, and the board has to be able to say, "But we're going to run our own university our way and we've got our president's back."

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, thinking about that pressure, Fred, I think a lot of our campuses are just trying to make it through graduation and into the summer. But we know going into the fall, we have a very political presidential election coming up. Do you have any advice to presidents as they're looking to the summer and to the fall or any predictions of what they should be prepared for?

Frederick Lawrence: There are two categories of things to think about over the summer. I'm going to start with one that's going to surprise you. I know presidents know this, but it can't stop being top of mind. Staff of all sorts are really strung tight right now. The impact these events have had throughout the university faculty who said, "I was always the popular faculty member. I was always the one that the students liked and now they think I'm a this, that and the other thing, and I don't recognize myself in their eyes anymore." That's not a small thing. That's a major thing for faculty to live with. Student affairs people, a different podcast for a different day, major financial challenges for so many of our campuses now as we strive to see what does it look like to make your enrollment numbers come the fall? You've got lots of people worried about lots of things. Presidents... I stand accused, presidents love to jump into here's the next thing we're going to do.

Before you do that, give people a chance to breathe after graduation. People are going to need a chance to breathe and to get back to a place of centeredness. In addition to that, I think this summer has got to be a time for rebuilding and/or building lots of different kinds of relationships because a lot of relationships are frayed. The fall has every expectation of being a very fraught time. We're going to have yet another incredibly contentious presidential election. By all signs, it's going to be a very close presidential election. There are already those who say they wouldn't necessarily accept the results depending if it goes this way or if it goes that way. That's all the earmarks of an incredibly tense fall just for the election. We don't know what's going to happen in the Middle East region between now and the fall, and of course, it's a big old world. We don't know what else could happen between now and then.

Going back to building relationships, time spent with student leaders over the summer. We think we can all agree the spring was a pretty tough time for all of us. What didn't work and what did work? How can we all do better and bringing people into that conversation so that... I'm fond of saying, "There's no they in the university, there's only we." Whenever I hear people talk about things like, "They did this," that's likely to lead to a mistake. One university president talking about negotiation said, "We had our demands and they had their demands." Wow, that's a tough way of looking at it. Those are your students. There's no they, there's only we. Some of those we lines have got to be restored, and summertime is a good time to do that. Best time to have these discussions is when there's no agenda item on the table. Sadly, right now there's lots of agendas on the table. Maybe during the summertime it'll cool down a little bit and there'll be more of a chance for those conversations.

Jon Fansmith: That's very thoughtful and pragmatic advice I think, especially for our campus community, as you pointed out, across a range of responsibilities and roles that are at and above capacity and under maximum levels of stress. Thank you, Fred. I want to really sincerely thank you for coming on. I wish that we had more voices with the clarity and depth of knowledge on this subject as yours speaking on it because I'm listening to you and I'm thinking if this was the narrative we were experiencing in the public space more often I think we would be talking about the situation in a very, very different way. I certainly appreciate your thoughts and your insights to our members.

Frederick Lawrence: I appreciate your kind words, and it's a pleasure being with you. I will just add that mine is not a unique voice. There are many campuses where this is going on. As I say, these are not the places you hear the most about. Skidmore, the story that I told you is a good example of that. There are lots of other campuses where things are proceeding well, so there's every reason to be helpful. But we don't necessarily need to be practicing overkill, but we certainly should be vigilant.

Jon Fansmith: Something for us at ACE to lift up those examples as well.

Frederick Lawrence: Absolutely because it appears that the media is not, and it appears that government officials are not, so we all have to make sure that we do that. Remind ourselves and lift that up and put that out. Exactly.

Jon Fansmith: Thank you so much, Fred. I know we all really enjoyed this and appreciate you taking the time. Pleasure being with you.

Thank you for joining us on dotEDU. If you enjoyed the show, please consider subscribing, rating and leaving a review on your favorite podcast platform. Your feedback is important to us and it helps other policy wonks discover our show. Don't forget to follow ACE on social media to stay updated on upcoming episodes and other higher education content. You can find us on X, LinkedIn and Instagram. Of course, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future episodes, please feel free to reach out to us at We love hearing from our listeners, and who knows? Your input might inspire a future episode.

About the Podcast

​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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