Faculty members defend student protesters with open letters, no-confidence votes The protests sweeping college campuses don't just involve students. Professors are increasingly pushing back against university administrations they see as infringing on students' free speech rights.

How some faculty members are defending student protesters, in actions and in words

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Pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses nationwide don't just involve students. Professors are also showing up, and some have been arrested. As NPR's Rachel Treisman reports, faculty members are standing up to protect students' freedom of speech.

RACHEL TREISMAN, BYLINE: Sarah Phillips was on Indiana University's campus on Saturday when she heard that police were once again preparing to break up a student protest. State and university police had arrested more than 30 protesters two days before. Phillips, an anthropology professor, headed to the lawn.

SARAH PHILLIPS: I saw students of mine in a stare-down with a long line of heavily equipped riot police.

TRIESMAN: Instinctively, she says, she started walking toward them.

PHILLIPS: A few moments later, I found myself on the ground, handcuffed and being marched with some students and other faculty to a bus that was ready to take us away to the local jail.

TRIESMAN: Phillips was one of some two dozen people arrested that day at IU and one of hundreds arrested at campus protests across the country in the last two weeks. That number includes professors who have been arrested at schools, including Emory and UW-Madison. Some have joined students in protesting the war in Gaza and university investments in Israel, but others say they were protecting students from police. It's one of several ways they're trying to help.

IRENE MULVEY: I feel like, for faculty responding as faculty to this moment, we're in triage mode.

TRIESMAN: That's Irene Mulvey, the president of the American Association of University Professors.

MULVEY: They're putting their bodies on the line to protect students' right to peaceful protest.

TRIESMAN: Faculty members have formed shields around protesters at Columbia and held marches of their own in support of students at several schools.

MULVEY: And they're dealing with the administration with no-confidence votes but also trying to deal with the administration directly to get them to, you know, back off and do the right thing.

TRIESMAN: Faculty members at some schools, like Barnard and UT-Austin, are calling on their leaders to resign. Others, at places like Vanderbilt and Yale, are signing letters that urge leaders to take specific actions, like dropping charges against arrested students and reinstating those who were suspended. Mulvey says schools already have structures, like faculty senates and academic councils, through which professors and administrators can figure out the way forward - at least in theory.

MULVEY: Administrations are not engaging the faculty, and that's the thing. These - like academic freedom, like, shared governance - if you're not upholding it when it's needed, then it means nothing.

TRIESMAN: She says the next step is rebuilding trust, which could take a long time. For now, students and professors are navigating a hectic end to their semester. Phillips, like others arrested at Indiana, has been banned from campus for a year.

PHILLIPS: Students need to be taking their final exams, attending graduation. And to deprive them of that experience and responsibility, really, as students, is just not fair.

TRIESMAN: Indiana faculty are holding a silent protest outside of this weekend's graduation ceremonies as commencement season begins.

Rachel Treisman, NPR News.


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