CUNY to Limit Student Activism

Kristal Lewis.

Students march from CUNY Central to Baruch College on Nov. 25. Media Credit: RSCC

Students march from CUNY Central to Baruch College on Nov. 25. Media Credit: RSCC

The CUNY administration proposed a new policy on expressive conduct to set limitations to the ways students can organize demonstrations on campus.  

Under the proposed policy, named “The City University of New York Policy on Expressive Conduct,” CUNY will limit the right to protest inside school buildings, and require students and employees to hold demonstrations at a predetermined time and place “to maintain a safe and organized community.”

In its newest draft, which dates back to Oct. 11, the policy specifies who is allowed to hold demonstrations inside the designated areas, and makes sponsors of the demonstration notify Public Safety 24 hours in advance if they are to use sound amplification.

The policy would also set rules for how students can table and distribute flyers. Actions such as using amplified sound without notice, and occupying “university property” after being asked to leave are prohibited. Faculty and staff will be prohibited from participating in demonstrations when scheduled to teach or perform other work responsibilities.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, released a statement on her position on the policy. She wrote, “Universities should uphold the highest standards for freedom of speech and assembly. As institutions devoted not just to the transmission of knowledge but to the production of new ideas, universities are inherently places of exploration, debate, dissent and, sometimes, protest. If CUNY is to be an intellectually vibrant university, it must recognize that ‘expressive activity’ is a vital part of campus life, not a danger to be confined to narrow limits.”

An earlier draft of the proposal, which dates back to June 27, called “The City University of New York Policy on Expressive Activity” read that if a demonstration was expected to have at least 25 participants, use sound amplification, or be located fewer than 25 feet from the entrance of the institution, the organizer had to give the college’s director of Public Safety or designee a 24 hour advance notice. The draft also read that camping overnight and demonstrations held inside the buildings were going to be prohibited.

Ira Bloom, a constitutional law professor at Lehman, said that he still saw problems in the way the policy curtails students’ right to protest. “Some of the issues are more serious on vertical campuses, such as Baruch and Hunter, where there are no campuses just buildings and all the space virtually is in the interior of buildings,” he said. “The policy is more restrictive about the interior of buildings.”

According to Bloom, though the new draft has fewer constitutional issues than the first, some problems can still arise with the campus administration and how they’ll administer it. “If one of the campuses wants to be very restrictive with this, then we can be back with issues,” said Bloom.

Last semester was marked by a series of student demonstrations. First was the protest against the professorship of former CIA director David Petraeus at the Macaulay Honors College which resulted in six violent arrests.

There were also protests against the seizure of the Morales/Shakur Community Center at City College – long a hub of student and community organizing – by Public Safety and the NYPD. The largely peaceful demonstrations led to the repression of various CUNY activists, two of which were indicted by the District Attorney under charges of rioting, among others.

On Monday Nov. 25, 2013, various CUNY political groups, including the PSC, led a demonstration against the expressive conduct policy, which they saw as an infringement of the students’ right to protest, at the CUNY Central Office. The protesters later marched toward Baruch College where a meeting of the Board of Trustees was taking place.

Despite the concerns the expressive activity policy has raised, it has not yet been finalized, and the Board of Trustees has not announced when the final vote on the policy will be held.

The Board of Trustees did not respond to The Meridian’s request for comment.

In the print version of this article published on February 2014, the text for this article, which appeared on page 3 of the print issue, was duplicated in the article which appeared on page 4. The headline and byline of the article on page 4 did not correspond to the actual body of the article.

On behalf of the staff, the editor-in-chief (Percy Lujan) would like to apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

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