How A College President Should Respond

The Wall Street Journal yesterday noted this passage from a 2005 interview with the late John Silber, who served as president and later chancellor of Boston University, about how he responded to student protests on campus in the 1970s and 1980s:

Then they put up the shacks. I told the police, “Go ask them three questions: Do you have a title to the property? (They built them on our property, not theirs.) Do you have a building permit? We have to have building permits. Have you got a clearance with the historical commission, because this is a historical district? If the answer is no to those three questions, then you tell them, ‘We’ll give you about 15 minutes to remove your shanty. And if you don’t, you’ll be arrested.’ ” I said, “Now, none of them are going to remove their shanty, so you’re going to have to arrest them. But I want you to be very gentle, and I want you to take them to the paddy wagon singing, ‘It’s just a shanty in old shanty town.’ ” Because one point I want to get across to these students is, I do not take them seriously. This is not some very deeply felt, high moral cause on their part; this is showboating of a very insincere kind by most of these students, and I want them to understand that I see through their pretensions.