Crosstown Rivals Publicly Criticized Over Campus Protests

Crosstown Rivals Publicly Criticized Over Campus Protests


They are crosstown rivals and civic landmarks. One is public, one private. One is surrounded by some of the priciest real estate in the nation; the other’s neighborhood is decidedly more working-class.

Over the past couple of weeks, though, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, have had one thing in common: being publicly slammed for mishandling campus protests.

After anger over a canceled valedictory speech culminated in an uprising at U.S.C. last week that led to 93 arrests on campus, the university’s president faced criticism that she had called in the Los Angeles police too quickly. This week, U.C.L.A.’s chancellor is fielding accusations that the university’s call for police backup took too long.

U.C.L.A. had taken a relatively tolerant approach to protests, adhering to a University of California-wide policy of avoiding calling in outside law enforcement unless “absolutely necessary to protect the physical safety” of the public campus. But on Tuesday, the school declared that an encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at U.C.L.A. was an “unlawful assembly.”

Some observers wondered whether the shift had come because of escalating violence. Or maybe it was because the chancellor, Gene Block, was summoned Tuesday to testify later this month in front of a Republican-led congressional committee that has grilled other university presidents on how their campuses have handled pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

That night, as a pro-Palestinian group resisted orders to disperse, counterprotesters descended violently on their encampment. Several students were injured before the Los Angeles police — who did not have the primary jurisdiction necessary to respond without an invitation — were finally called in.

The next night, the situation was much different. Amid charges by city officials that the university police had not only been too slow to respond, but also ineffective, officers from three law enforcement agencies were called to campus Wednesday. Early Thursday, they moved in. They arrested more than 200 people and dismantled the pro-Palestinian camp.

Now, as both universities pick up the pieces, the two episodes present dueling case studies. For defenders of the two administrations, the takeaway is simple: In the current political climate, university presidents are in a no-win situation.

For critics, the lesson is about foresight.

Why, they ask, did U.C.L.A. not see the peril in allowing pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters to demonstrate within 20 feet of each other? Why were ground rules not established in advance at both schools, with consequences for epithets, vandalism and trespassing in campus buildings? And why was more not done to stop “outside agitators” from inciting violence?

Only 51 of the 93 people arrested at U.S.C. were students, and 36 were not affiliated with the university, Andrew Guzman, the provost, told the Academic Senate this week. Block, the U.C.L.A. chancellor, cited “instigators” as the cause of the melee on Tuesday; on social media, pro-Palestinian groups flagged some of their attackers as past participants in right-wing demonstrations against transgender rights and immigration.

“It’s remarkable to me how flat-footed the presidents have been at almost every step,” William G. Tierney, a professor emeritus of higher education at U.S.C. who has written about the national administrative response to the campus protests, said Thursday by email. “We could have stood out as a forum to have passionate/civil conversation and instead we have mayhem. Yuck.”

Carol Folt, the president of U.S.C., told the faculty that she made the decisions she did to prevent an explosion of violence like the one on the U.C.L.A. campus. Still, if she had it to do over, she said, she might have talked more to students, face-to-face, in the protest’s early stages. So far, she said, the university has not taken disciplinary action against students who were arrested. Only faculty members and students are now being admitted to campus. A scaled down commencement is scheduled for May 10.

U.C.L.A.’s chancellor has promised to investigate the university’s response, urged students to avoid the site of the protest and pivoted to remote instruction at least through the next few days. Classes are not scheduled to end for another month.

And as the academic calendar winds down, Los Angeles’s biggest institutions of higher education are confronting strikingly similar landscapes: mass arrests, widespread frustration and a pall over the end of the school year.

Led by a former Trump administration envoy to combat antisemitism, the pro-Israel group that clashed violently at U.C.L.A. this week with pro-Palestinian demonstrators has promised more counterprotests.

Jacqueline Norvell, also known as the Brown Bag Lady, has handed out food and supplies to homeless people on Skid Row in Los Angeles since 2014, Upworthy reported in 2022. Norvell and her team do this every Sunday, including during the Covid-19 pandemic, when Norvell and her team went out in hazmat suits.

Her nonprofit organization, Brown Bag Lady, has helped to feed more than 75,000 people. Each brown bag the group distributes also includes an inspirational quotation, to maintain a personal touch.

Norvell’s aspiration is to own a building with a commercial kitchen to prepare weekly meals.


Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Halina Bennet and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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