Internet InfoMedia ronald reagans lessons for todays campus crisis

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There is little doubt that the nation’s attention has been drawn to the crisis taking place on university campuses. Student protests over the Israel-Hamas war have popped up on an increasing number of college campuses as students are calling for universities to separate themselves from any companies that are advancing Israel’s military efforts in Gaza – and in some cases from Israel itself.

As we have seen on the news, university presidents, mayors, governors and the president seem paralyzed regarding what to do next. Students from Jewish backgrounds have been told to leave their campus for safety. End-of-year graduation celebrations have been canceled due to the protests. 

What should our leaders do? Is there an example from the past that could serve as a guide for our leaders today?

Reagan as governor

California Gov. Ronald Reagan, flanked by executive secretary Edwin Meese III, left; Alameda County Sheriff Frank I. Madigan, second from right, and California Highway Patrol Commissioner H.W. Sullivan, proclaims “a state of extreme emergency” exists at the University of California, Berkeley, on Feb. 6, 1969. (Sacramento Bee/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

The crisis of college demonstrations and occupation of buildings is not unique in our nation’s history. While the subject of campus protests has differed over the years, each have started under the guise of “mostly peaceful protests.” Unfortunately, 2024 protests have resulted in increasing levels of violence, threats against fellow students and disruption of university functions.

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In his 1966 campaign for California governor, Ronald Reagan was confronted with a similar dilemma – what to do with campuses out of control. Students across the state had disrupted the educational experience, leaving some universities in chaos. 

As a candidate, Reagan promised to “to clean up the mess at Berkeley,” referring to the unrest prevalent at the University of California, Berkeley, and college campuses throughout the state. Students and faculty were engaged in protests, demonstrations and strikes related to issues such as the draft and civil rights.

Student protesters gather in protest inside their encampment on the Columbia University campus

Columbia University faculty and staff gather on the campus in solidarity with student protesters who are demonstrating against the university’s investments in Israel, April 29, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

His campaign for governor in 1966 provided Reagan’s thoughts about protests spiraling into “rioting, with anarchy”. He pointed to university administrators and faculty, who “press their particular value judgments” on students, leading to “a leadership gap and a morality and decency gap” on campus. Reagan suggested a code of conduct be imposed on faculty to “force them to serve as examples of good behavior and decency.”   

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The events of 1969 provide insight into how Gov. Reagan would handle increasingly violent protests today. Students at University of California, Berkeley, had been using a vacant plot of land for protests against the Vietnam War and decided to block the university from developing it. 

When the university attempted to erect a fence around the plot of land, thousands of students soon arrived to protest, with actions turning into a riot. Gov. Reagan ordered the Berkeley police and California Highway Patrol to restore order.

National Guard at Berkeley

In response to student demonstrations over the closure of People’s Park in 1969, Gov. Ronald Reagan called in the National Guard to restore order on the University of California, Berkeley campus. (Ted Streshinsky/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

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