Dartmouth’s Leader Called in Police Quickly. The Fallout Was Just as Swift.


As the police arrested student protesters at Dartmouth College, a 65-year-old professor ended up on the ground.

Two student journalists, reporting that night, ended up arrested themselves.

And a bystander, visiting his father who lives near Dartmouth College, found himself with a fractured shoulder.

That was some of the collateral damage after the president of Dartmouth College, Sian Leah Beilock, took unusually swift action and authorized the police action on May 1 to clear an encampment that students had, just two hours earlier, pitched on the college green.

Dr. Beilock, a cognitive scientist who studies why people choke under pressure, has been facing a campus uproar ever since.

Presidents have faced a platter of unappealing choices in handling the student encampments, which have recently popped up all over the country, to protest Israel’s war in Gaza.

A few colleges, like Northwestern University, struck agreements with their student protesters, and found themselves criticized for being too lenient. Others, like Wesleyan University, said protesters would face discipline but that officials would not use force to clear the tents if students remained nonviolent.

And at places like University of Chicago, administrators had warned against the encampments, and watched them enlarge over days, before calling in the police.

Dartmouth College has stood out for its almost instantaneous response to a nonviolent protest.

Students there erected the tents at about 6:45 p.m., protectively surrounded by more than a hundred supporters, linking arms. After warnings to leave, campus safety officials deferred to the Hanover Police Department, the New Hampshire State Police, and other local agencies. Arrests began around 8:50 p.m.

In an email the day after the arrests, Dr. Beilock said that allowing the university’s shared spaces to be taken over for ideological reasons is “exclusionary at best and, at its worst, as we have seen on other campuses in recent days, can turn quickly into hateful intimidation where Jewish students feel unsafe.”

Moshe L. Gray, the longtime executive director of the Dartmouth chapter of Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish group, said Dr. Beilock has taken “a very principled stand” since Oct. 7, making her stand out from her Ivy peers.

“She has an obligation to keep this school safe,” Rabbi Gray said. “Jewish students feel like she has done that for them.”

But to some faculty members, using law enforcement to arrest nonviolent protesters broke the compact that should exist on college campuses.

“We’re supposed to be a living example for how we manage divisive topics, and the most important thing in this process is that we don’t engage each other as enemies,” said Udi Greenberg, a history professor. “Sending the police on protesters is the exact opposite of engaging each other in good faith.”

There was also the matter of injuries.

Andrew Tefft, visiting his dad from out of town, took a walk to the green as the police moved in. He said he was unconnected to the college or the protesters, so when an officer ordered him to move, he was confused.

”I guess I was dumb enough to say, ‘Where?’” Mr. Tefft, 45, said in an interview. “I feel my phone get knocked out of my hands and go flying and I feel my arms getting pulled. I feel the metal cuffs go on. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m being arrested.’”

He said he fractured his shoulder during a scuffle with the police. An arrest report said that Mr. Tefft did not comply with orders and behaved aggressively during the arrest.

“I grew up in this town,” said Mr. Tefft, who has fond memories of watching bonfires on the green, “and this is the craziest story that’s ever happened to me.”

Annelise Orleck, the former head of Jewish Studies at the university, said she started taking videos of the arrests, when she was knocked to the ground as she tried to grab her phone from a police officer.

Alesandra Gonzales, a student reporter witnessed the professor’s arrest. Then she, too, was arrested. She called out to another student reporter, Charlotte Hampton, a news managing editor, who also ended up zip-tied. In an interview, both said they had press identification.

Local and state police officials did not agree to interview requests.

The last time so many campuses resorted to the police to confront student protesters was 1970 during the antiwar movement, said David Farber, an American history professor at the University of Kansas who has studied the 1960s. Students then were far more militarized than today, he said, noting that they firebombed campus buildings across the country.

“What’s different about this period is there’s been so many confrontations so fast, so many administrators calling in the cops so quickly,” he said.

On May 6, in a raucous online meeting with faculty, which quickly met the 500-person limit, Dr. Beilock tried to explain her fast reaction.

“An ongoing encampment is not something we can ensure the safety of,” she said, “especially if people outside Dartmouth decide to join with their own agendas.” She cited Columbia University, where some outsiders had joined the protests, but were certainly not in the majority.

Many faculty were not appeased. They said that the violence came from the police, not the protesters.

“Five tents,” wrote Carolyn Dever, a former Dartmouth provost, in the comments of the chat as Dr. Beilock spoke, which was repeated by many faculty members.

“This is not Columbia,” another faculty member wrote.

“Drop the charges,” wrote another.

Matthew J. Garcia, a history professor, said Dartmouth used a big-city solution for the serene, rural town of Hanover.

“It’s like a place out of time,” he said, adding, “It is absurd to suggest that this is a hotbed of revolution.”

The student newspaper also criticized the university in an editorial, demanding that the university urge the authorities to drop the charges against their reporters.

“The college should be embarrassed,” it stated. “We expect a prompt and public apology from College President Sian Leah Beilock.”

University administrators responded defiantly at first, saying they supported the student reporters’s right to clear their names “through the legal process.”

But as the backlash grew, and press freedom supporters slammed the university, Dr. Beilock relented, stating in a column in the student newspaper that the reporters should not have been arrested. “We are working with local authorities to ensure this error is corrected,” she wrote.

The charges against the reporters were dropped.

Some on campus may not be demand-her-resignation angry. In a measure perhaps of the high social cost of supporting Dr. Beilock, the student council voted publicly for a no-confidence measure, 13-2, with three abstaining. After the student body president vetoed the public vote, citing inadequate deliberation, another vote, held privately, reversed the decision, 9-8 against, with two abstaining. The entire student body is now voting on a no-confidence measure.

The faculty is divided.

“Our president is Jewish herself and has been on top of how Jewish students are feeling on the campus,” said Sergei Kan, an anthropology professor. He said students at the protest were chanting offensive, “borderline antisemitic” slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” (Many supporters of the Palestinians say the phrase is a rallying cry for the dignity of Palestinians).

“When they surrounded the tents and held hands, they were ready for a fight,” Dr. Kan said, adding that the green “belongs to all of us.”

Dartmouth’s board has also supported the action. Liz Cahill Lempres, Dartmouth’s board chair, said in an email to The Times that she had spoken with all board members and “each one unequivocally supports” Dr. Beilock.

In any case, the arrests may not deter the protesters. Months before tents became a symbol of pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses nationwide, Kevin Engel and other students set up two outside the Dartmouth administration building to seek divestment from Israel.

Mr. Engel, a first-year student, and another student were arrested on a trespassing charge, an early sign that Dr. Beilock was serious about cracking down on policy violators.

Dr. Beilock’s decision, Mr. Engel said, turbocharged the student activists.

“We’re not going to stop,” he said. “Palestine will be free within our lifetimes. The students are taking up the burden of doing that work because no one else really is.”



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