April 29, 2013

Cornell Mulls Changes to Policy on Protests, Permits

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After dueling rallies held by student organizations on Ho Plaza last semester raised questions about free speech and the necessity of permits in protests, the University Assembly considered amending the Campus Code of Conduct. If the U.A. passes a resolution Tuesday, it may support clarifying that student groups do not need permits to hold outdoor events on campus.

At the Nov. 19 rallies, held by the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine, SJP was evicted from Ho Plaza by Cornell Police. Because SJP had not filed a Use of University Property form to register its rally while CIPAC had done so, Cornell Police asked SJP to leave Ho Plaza, according to Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner.

Members of SJP claimed their eviction from Ho Plaza was an infringement of their First Amendment rights.

Gregory Mezey ’09, chair of the U.A. codes and judicial committee, said the U.A.’s decision to consider changing the Campus Code of Conduct was in part prompted by the rallies.

According to a University report, “Report Regarding Reviews of Nov. 19th Protests,” the incident on Ho Plaza resulted from “a real lack of clarity as to what policies govern outdoor rallies and demonstrations on University property.”

Mezey added that these changes — which were approved by the committee on Friday — will clarify the ambiguity that arose during the competing rallies.

“One of the things that we did is we wanted to provide some clarity and clean up the code in a way that still provides rights for outdoor rallies, [and] picketing,” Mezey said.

While the Campus Code of Conduct states that “there appears to be no need for a mandatory permit procedure” for rallies, marches and other outdoor activities, permits for such events are still available. As a result, members of CIPAC thought that by securing a permit, they reserved use of Ho Plaza, and members of SJP believed they did not need a permit, the report states.

Under the proposed changes, student groups can file a UUP form, but the form is not required if groups want to hold a rally, protest, march or other outdoor event, according to Mezey.

Although permits will not be required, protests may not interrupt “regular and special curricular activities, extracurricular activities, academic processions and events, conduct of University business and employment interviews,” according to the Campus Code of Conduct.

Under the new proposal, however, a counter-protest would not be considered an interruption and would be permitted.

Despite the fact that a UUP will not be required to hold rallies or protests, Ari Epstein, assistant director of the Office of the Assemblies, said students should still apply for a UUP if the U.A. resolution passes.

“As an adviser to an organization, my advice would be the same under the new and the current policy: Get a UUP whenever you have an outdoor event,” he said.

Mezey said that obtaining a UUP allows both the University and CUPD to be responsive to large events and to ensure the safety of participants.

“It allows that in any situation that could or may arise, the appropriate people could be involved,” he said. “The appropriate people are notified to ensure the safety of the protestors, the counter-protestors and the environment as a whole, the community as a whole. … We want to have the appropriate services there in case things get out of hand.”

Mezey added that if two groups have competing events at the same time and place, but only one filed a UUP, neither group will receive preference from the University and both will be allowed to continue their events.

Professors had differing reactions to the U.A. resolution. Prof. Randy Wayne, plant biology, a member of the U.A. Codes and Judicial Committee, said the U.A. proposal “maximizes free speech.”

“I’m in favor of the proposed change because I think it speaks more strongly to freedom of speech because it says that no permit is required,” he said. “I like that there is a mechanism in place in case two groups want to occupy the same space. … The University police can be in the same place to make sure both sides can speak in a civil way.”

In contrast, Prof. Risa Lieberwitz, industrial and labor relations, said the suggestion to obtain a UUP could create a situation similar to the events that occurred on Ho Plaza on Nov. 19, when one group asked CUPD to remove another group.

“It goes through the back door in a way that requires a permit. It encourages people to get a permit,” she said. “It will run right into a situation where a group with a permit will be able to claim they have a privilege to the right to space.”

Still, if the resolution is passed by the U.A., the Campus Code of Conduct will retain “time, place and manner restrictions,” Epstein said.

“‘Time, place and manner’ is something from First Amendment law. The idea is that the government — or in this case the University, which is subjecting itself to the same rules as the government — can regulate an event as long as the regulation doesn’t pertain to the content of the event,” Epstein said.

Lieberwitz, however, said that time, place and manner restrictions give the University too much power to regulate speech and expression.

“I think time, place and manner is too vague. It gives the administration and possibly the police too broad powers to restrict speech,” she said.

The proposed changes to the Code of Conduct do not affect indoor events, which require a UUP.

Original Author: Joseph Niczky