Isabelle Jung/Sun Graphics Editor

June 25, 2024

Committee Formed to Recommend Final Expressive Activity Policy

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Amid policy backlash and heightened protest activity throughout the Spring 2024 semester, a committee has formed to revise and produce a finalized version of the Interim Expressive Activity Policy this summer.

The interim policy was originally released in Jan. 2024. It established restrictions and regulations on student protest and other expressive activity on campus. These regulations included guidelines on the use of amplified sound, as well as registration requirements for demonstrations. Since the policy was implemented, pro-Palestine student protesters were arrested for occupying Day Hall and suspended for participating in an encampment on the Arts Quad.

The policy was updated in March, loosening some restrictions, including those on postering and open flames. 

As the policy looks to be finalized, the Committee on Campus Expressive Activity has been formed to recommend a permanent expressive activity policy. This committee is comprised of 19 Cornellians and is chaired by Colleen Barry, the inaugural dean of the Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy. The group will meet throughout the summer to create a finalized draft of the policy to be presented to Cornell’s governing bodies by early next semester and utilized across all Cornell campuses.

According to Barry, Provost Michael Kotlikoff — who will serve as the interim president as of July 1 — and President Martha Pollack have charged the committee with three tasks as they rework the existing interim policy:

  1. Gathering feedback on the policy from the broader community
  2. Reviewing peer university policies for insight
  3. Addressing three main objectives within the policy

The first of the three main objectives is to recommend a policy that is both legally compliant and in line with the University’s core values. According to Cornell University’s core values, these values include “purposeful discovery, free and open inquiry and expression, a community of belonging, exploration across boundaries, changing lives through engagement and respect for the natural environment constitute Cornell’s core values.” The policy aims to uphold students to the standard of these values and the law.

The second objective is to “recommend a clear framework for accountability measures for individuals and groups who violate the policy and its objectives.” The interim policy has been previously criticized for ambiguous language, such as the policies being labeled as “expectations” rather than mandatory while simultaneously being described as being labeled under Section H: Failure to Comply in the Student Code of Conduct, meaning that students who fail to abide by policies face repercussions.

Barry stated that the new policy will remove these ambiguities, giving Cornellians a “clear sense of what the repercussions of [your actions] are.”

“That charge explicitly asks us to recommend a framework of accountability measures for individuals who violate the policy,” Barry said. 

Lastly, the third objective of the committee is to propose a strategy for educating Cornellians about the policy and why it is “important for our community to have content-neutral time, place and manner articles.” 

Time, place and manner policies are intended to regulate the means of expression. Examples of this in the interim policy include restrictions on amplified sound and registrations for outdoor demonstrations. The new policy will continue to emphasize and enforce guidelines in this manner.

“[The past semester] we’ve seen significant expressive activity on campus around a specific issue,” Barry said. “We hope as a committee that will be able to have a policy that will endure across many eras and periods of protest and activity on campus.”

While the policy was released in a contentious period on campus, Kotlikoff maintains that the interim policy was not created as a reaction to Israel and Palestine campus protests and organizations

“This is a policy that’s not aimed at any particular events or reaction to any event,” Kotlikoff said. “It’s a necessary pulling together of policies that is important for the University to function.”

In an interview with The Sun in March, Vice President and General Counsel Donica Varner explained that while policy formation predated campus reactions to the Israel-Hamas war, The Department of Education’s investigation into the University’s response to campus antisemitism accelerated the process to establish guidelines for the spring semester.

After the initial introduction of the interim policy, shared governance branches heavily criticized the administration for what they saw as a lack of proper consultation with the branches over the policy. 

In February, the Student Assembly passed Resolution 58 which stated, “The only feedback permitted to be provided by the S.A. [on the policy] was required by the Dean of Students to be done in a sixty-minute confidential meeting and with only six of the thirty-one members of the Student Assembly present.” 

However, the new committee plans to heavily consider the input of shared governance branches.

“We would want to consult with the leadership [of shared governance bodies] to see what type of venue would be most productive for them,” Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina said. “Not to speak for the committee, but I think we would be open to whatever would be the right level of engagement — whether it be a standard scheduled open meeting, or to have a smaller opportunity to to discuss with members of each body.”

In addition to formally introducing the revised policy to shared governance members at the beginning of the semester, some members of shared governance — including Mark E. Lewis, a member of the Faculty Senate and Ava Lagressa, a member of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and chair for the University Assembly — are members of the committee.

The committee is made of 19 individuals who, according to Barry, were selected for their diverse “voices and perspectives [as a] sufficient representation of students, staff and faculty.”

With these three objectives and tasks in mind, the committee will recommend the final policy.

“Not everyone’s going to agree with the policy. People will have different priorities and different views about what should we prioritize,” Kotlikoff said. “But the importance for [Pollack] and me is to go through a process that’s broadly consultative and to come up with some kind of consensus policy that people have seen as collaborative and consultative.