The University of Utah handled a sizable on-campus pro-Palestinian protest and unlawful encampment “brilliantly,” according to Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

Police arrested a total of 21 demonstrators after they refused to follow police orders to take down tents and disperse in the late hours of April 30, after a late-afternoon protest on the administration building’s steps moved onto the lawn on Presidents Circle and some 20 tents were erected. Most of the people arrested were not affiliated with the university, Cox noted.

“If you look at what’s happened in other states across the nation, we absolutely did it the right way. I’m so proud of our first responders who were on scene. I wish everyone could have seen up close exactly what was happening, the taunts, the threats of the terrible things that were being shouted at them, and the professional way in which they handled themselves,” said Cox on Thursday during the governor’s monthly PBS Utah press conference.

Cox said, “We will always protect people’s right to protest no matter what they say or if we disagree with it.”

In public spaces, time, place and manner restrictions also come into play, he said.

“Camping is prohibited. That is not part of it. You don’t have a right to camp. That’s not a thing. There’s nothing in the First Amendment that says you get to pitch a tent anywhere you want, whenever you want,” Cox said.

He continued, “There’s nothing that says you get to harass other people or make life miserable for other people. You don’t get to do that and restrict other people’s ability to get an education and move around on campus and so that’s exactly what we did. We protected those people who were protesting and doing so responsibly. To those who decided to break the law, that was not related to their First Amendment rights, they will be held accountable and were held accountable in that moment. And so, that’s the way you do it.”

Cox said he was in contact with University of Utah President Taylor Randall throughout the night of the April 30 protest “and in the days that followed, we had phone calls and conversations about what was happening and how to respond.”

He thanked Randall and law enforcement officers who responded to the protest and illegal encampment, noting their training that enables them “to work in these environments and make sure that they’re doing it the right way. (I’m) just just so proud of how that went down,” he said.

Utah’s new Commissioner of Higher Education Geoffrey Landward, who was confirmed by the Utah Senate on Wednesday, was asked for his assessment of the events of April 30 during his recent confirmation hearing.

The protest on April 30 was followed by two smaller and shorter demonstrations on May 1 and May 2, the latter held outside the Jon M. Huntsman Center, where the university was conducting commencement exercises.

Rabbi Avremi Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah said he shared the governor’s assessment of how the protest and unlawful encampment was handled. He complimented the leadership of Cox, Randall and law enforcement agencies.

“One need only take a brief look at the chaos and the pandemonium that has erupted at some of the other college campuses around the country to acknowledge and to realize how well this was handled by the government and university administration. I saw on my social media today that law enforcement at DePaul University today found guns, knives, bricks,” Rabbi Zippel said.

The encampment at DePaul University that was established on April 30, was dismantled Thursday morning by Chicago police. According to a letter from DePaul University President Robert L. Manuel to the university community, “knives, a pellet gun and other improvised weapons intended to cause harm,” were found in the encampment while it was being dismantled.

Rabbi Zippel said to suggest the April 30 protest and unlawful encampment at the University of Utah was “a bunch of peaceful, sweet 19-year-olds who just want to express their opinion, the goalposts have been moved around that reality so many times.”

“These weren’t students by and large. These were outside agitators. They were hoping to set up a camp which, by every measure of university policy, is not allowed. It is not an expression of free speech to go camping,” he said.

Landward, addressing Senate Education Confirmation Committee, also defended free expression rights on campus.

“I have long been a proponent of and defender of our right to free expression, and in particular, our universities and colleges and their role in providing the forum for the most rigorous types of free speech, the debates around the most difficult issues. The right to assemble and the right to protest on our campuses is an integral part of not only our democracy, but our higher education,” he said.

Landward, who is an attorney, said “statutorily, all of our outdoor areas of our campuses have been designated as free speech zones with the intent of fostering the kind of environment where people can come and express their viewpoints on issues that are difficult or issues that are causing concern in society.”

He said it disheartens him that “the narrative out there is that we are not protecting that right. However, equally disheartening is this notion that to express and to exercise your right to free speech means that you have free rein to violate the law or the policies on our campuses that are intended to protect the very rights that you’re using.”

The University of Utah “took great pains, as the protests were starting on campus to say, ‘Here are the policies in place for protesting. If you follow these rules, you can stay here for as long as you want and protest for as long as you want. But we ask you to follow these rules.’ They knew what those rules were going in when they went in,” Landward said.

Universities have to have a commitment to say “these are the rules and we are going to enforce them from the very beginning. If you don’t uniformly and consistently enforce those rules, it becomes much harder to do that, retroactively,” he said.

Utah’s institutions of higher education “have rightly said ‘We’re going to protect your right to protest. We’re going to celebrate your right to protest but we’re also going to make sure you stay within the rules,’“ Landward said.

Time, place and manner restrictions help protect other rights such as property rights and the right to safety.

“There’s the right for our students who have paid tuition to come and get the instruction that they paid for,” Landward said.