“These actions, which can be clearly identified as a demonstration and sit-in, are protected as a legitimate mode of expression under Regulation 12.”
Last week, we reported that a handful of the students who participated in the Board of Trustees Occupation received SJB summons for violating Regulations 14 and 15 of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct. On Friday, charged students received confirmation of the charges and notices of their Simplified Hearing dates. (The occupation and its subsequent disciplinary action are also the subject of a Middletown Press piece by former Argus editor-in-chief Justin Pottle ’13. The Hartford Courant has also gone public with an article. More on this press coverage soon.)
A few of the charged students, including Oliver James ’14, have had their ResLife jobs threatened by the disciplinary action. “Both Yona and I were threatened last week with termination of our positions at Res Life for participating in the Need Blind Trustees Action,” James explained to me a few days ago over email. “We both heard today that we are not going to be fired but that we are being put on probation for the rest of the 2012-2013 academic year. Essentially, any further deviation from our duties as Res Life Staff, regardless of the nature, is now grounds for being fired. We hear this as the administration’s way of saying ‘Stay in line, or else.’”
Fair? The University was just following through with disciplinary policy by charging these students, right? Not so, say WSA members Zach Malter ’13 and Andrew Trexler ’14, who filed a formal complaint with Karen Karpa, Clerk of the Student Judicial Board, accusing the University of violating the Code of Non-Academic Conduct (CNAC). (Disclosure: though I took no part in writing this complaint, I did agree to lend my support by undersigning it.) According to the complaint, the protest on September 23 was fully protected under Regulation 12 of the CNAC, which protects legitimate political freedom and protest actions on campus.
The full text of Malter and Trexler’s complaint appears below.
COMPLAINT: We, the undersigned, believe that Wesleyan University has violated the terms of the Code of Non-Academic Conduct (CNAC) by bringing charges against several individuals for acts of peaceful activism occurring on 23rd September 2012 in the Daniel Family Commons. Regulation 12 of the CNAC states the following:
Disruptions—The following “ground rules” for political freedom on campus are excerpted from the booklet “Academic Freedom and Civil Liberties of Students in College and University,” published by the American Civil Liberties Union in 1970.
Ground Rules. Picketing, demonstrations, sit-ins, or student strikes, provided they are conducted in an orderly and non-obstructive manner, are a legitimate mode of expression, whether politically motivated or directed against the college administration, and should not be prohibited. Demonstrators, however, do not have the right to deprive others of the opportunity to speak or be heard, take hostages, physically obstruct the movement of others, or otherwise disrupt the educational or institutional processes in a way that interferes with the safety or freedom of others.
The actions taken by the accused students, though they may have disrupted institutional processes by interrupting the 23rd September Executive Session of the Board of Trustees, did not, in any way, interfere with the safety or freedom of any others. Furthermore, these actions were conducted in an orderly and non-obstructive manner, for the disruption of the Executive Session is not itself innately obstructive – or else no disruptions could possibly be protected under this Regulation.
The University has, through several communications, stated that these accused students alone, out of the many in the Commons on 23rd September, violated policy because they entered the Executive Session itself and thus disrupted said Session. Nevertheless, the University has not charged these students with violating Regulation 12 – Disruptions. Instead, the University has charged them with violating Regulations 14 – Failure to Comply and 15 – Department Regulations. The alleged violation of Regulation 14 refers to the warnings and instructions given to these accused students by Public Safety officers on 23rd September, while the violation of Regulation 15 refers to the entrance into a closed meeting, the Executive Session of the Board. However, these actions, which can be clearly identified as a demonstration and sit-in, are protected as a legitimate mode of expression under Regulation 12, as these actions did not interfere with the safety and freedom of others.
Regulation 14 specifically states that “Members of the community are expected to comply with reasonable requests” only, and not comply universally with all requests made by University personnel. The warnings and instructions from Public Safety officers given in the Commons on 23rd September, as well as the relevant Department regulations, which sought to violate the above protections, could therefore be legitimately ignored by the accused students.
The University thus illegitimately attempted to bypass the above protections both through the warnings and instructions given on 23rd September and by filing charges under Regulations 14 and 15 rather than under the much more relevant Regulation 12. We, the undersigned, protest against these violations of University policy currently being conducted by the University itself.
We, the undersigned, file this formal complaint according to the stipulations of Regulation 12:
University members who believe that activities of other members threaten to come in conflict with this regulation should file a complaint with the clerk of the SJB requesting that the appropriate hearing board enjoin the offensive conduct through the SJB procedures.
As always, feel free to provide your own thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for more coverage of the media attention that issue has been receiving. For more coverage of the Board of Trustees Occupation, click here or here.
[Edit 8 Oct 2:11am pyrotechnics: The University brings cases to the SJB to hear. The SJB does not itself pursue charges against students or anyone else.]