Campus Free Speech

Nico Perrino: When Does Protesting Become a Crime?

Executive VP of FIRE Nico Perrino discusses the history and legality of campus protests.


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What should colleges do about pro-Palestinian encampments?

College students across America are camping out to demand their universities divest all investments with Israeli-linked companies that they claim profit from the occupation and oppression of Palestine. It's gone on for weeks, and even administrators at schools known as bastions of progressive activism are finally getting fed up. Harvard's president is threatening "involuntary leave" for protesters. Columbia announced on Monday that it canceled its main commencement ceremony for safety reasons. The University of Southern California has, too.

UCLA called in the cops to clear its encampment, and police have arrested more than 2,100 protesters across all U.S. campuses since April, according to the Associated Press.

Congress has continued to interrogate Ivy League presidents, and a bill to explicitly define antisemitism for civil rights law enforcement purposes just passed the House with overwhelming support last week.

Joining us today to talk about the protests, the backlash, and what it all means for free speech on campus and the wider world is Nico Perrino, executive vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), and host of the free speech podcast So to Speak.

Watch the full conversation on Reason's YouTube channel or the Just Asking Questions podcast feed on AppleSpotify, or your preferred podcatcher.

Sources referenced in this conversation:

  1. Full Text of the Antisemitism Awareness Act
  2. International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of antisemitism.
  3. Columbia students define "divest"
  4. Harvard President Garber Breaks Silence on Encampment, Threatens 'Involuntary Leave' for Protesters
  5. Columbia cancels commencement amid campus protests
  6. Map: Where College Protesters Have Been Arrested or Detained
  7. Polling 1,200 college students on Encampments
  8. What Americans think about recent pro-Palestinian campus protests | YouGov
  9. Americans' Views of Both Israel, Palestinian Authority Down
  10. Majority in US Say Israel's Reasons for Fighting Hamas Are Valid | Pew Research Center
  11. Letter from judges saying they won't hire Columbia grads as clerks


  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 01:33 Free Speech on Campus: A Conversation with Nico Perrino
  • 02:13 The Historical Context of Campus Protests and Free Speech Debates
  • 07:28 The Legal and Social Implications of Campus Encampments
  • 31:38 The Role of Civil Disobedience in Campus Activism
  • 38:31 Evaluating the Effectiveness of Campus Protests Through Polling Data
  • 43:07 Congressional Involvement in Campus Free Speech Issues
  • 50:48 The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2023: A New Legal Battleground
  • 54:56 The Complexities of Free Speech and Political Expression on Campus
  • 59:17 Navigating the Tensions of Privacy and Free Speech
  • 01:03:42 The Role of Public Shaming and Cancel Culture in Free Speech Debates
  • 01:20:03 Nico Wants You To Ask Yourself This Question About Censorship
  • 01:23:58 Just Ask Us Questions: A Libertarian's Evolving Stance on Immigration