Friday, December 08, 2006

Protest Banned at Miami U (Ohio)

A report from a Miami University (Ohio) student: "we've been meeting with administration and advisory committees and we've exhausted all the available avenues to deal with the matter in as diplomatic a way as possible. but since this hasn't gotten us anywhere in the 4 years we've been working on this, we have recently begun organizing direct actions and creative protests with the intent of educating the Miami community. on tuesday, one of our protests was shut down by Miami Police, who told us we were not allowed to protest without a permit. when we went to Student Affairs to get one, they denied it to us."

This is a common problem, as universities try to ban protests under various pretexts. Legally, there may not be much you can do. Universities aren't obligated by law to have free speech. But they are obligated by moral values to do that. Here's a few steps to take: 1) contact the media. Put out a press release about it; 2) contact free speech groups, like FIRE and the Center for Campus Free Speech; 3) get the administration on the record, ideally from the president. Ask them whether there is free speech on campus. 4) get allies on campus, such as staff, faculty, and students, to express support for you and have another protest next week.

2 comments:

Sherman Dorn said...

John,

Miami University of Ohio is a public institution. Darned tootin' right they're obligated to obey the First Amendment, which only allowed reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech.

You may be confusing Miami U. of Ohio, the public institution, with the University of Miami (in Coral Gables, Florida), a private institution.

John K. Wilson said...

Sherman is absolutely right (damn Ohio's obscure campus nomenclature).

And Miami of Ohio actually has some good rules (which they apparently ignored):

The Student Handbook is online:
http://www.miami.muohio.edu/documents_and_policies/handbook/studentresponsibility/values.cfm

The free expression statement is here:
http://www.miami.muohio.edu/documents_and_policies/handbook/appendices/appendixb.cfm

The key provision is here: "The University recognizes the fact that expression of opinion through demonstrations is not forbidden unless it disrupts, as defined later in this policy, University functions or activities."

Here's the key definition:
"SECTION 06B.203
The initial judgment of the permissible limits of student expression should be made by the faculty member, administrator, or other University representative in charge of a specific University facility or function. Any member of the University community who believes the permissible limits of student expression have been exceeded may lodge a complaint with the University official in charge of the specific facility or function. If after observation of the situation the person in charge of a facility or function determines that said situation is no longer peaceful and orderly, he or she should:
06B.203.A. Request, not direct, the student to desist from the activities causing the disturbance and allow a reasonable amount of time for such action to occur. In the event of the failure of his or her efforts at persuasion, he or she should inform the University Police of the nature of the disturbance and remain on the scene, except for extreme duress, until the arrival of the police officer.
06B.203.B. Elect to immediately inform the University Police and the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs when he or she believes personal safety or well-being will be endangered by direct involvement with the demonstrators."

So, what does this mean?
First, anyone can "lodge a complaint with the University official in charge of the specific facility or function." However, if no one lodged a complaint, then according to these rules, no one is authorized to stop a protest.
Second, it requires the "University official," not the police, to make a judgment about whether someone is violating the rule. Then, it requires the university official, not the police, to ask the student to cease and desist. Only then can the university police be involved, unless someone's safety is endangered.

Also, under SECTION 06A.102 (http://www.miami.muohio.edu/documents_and_policies/handbook/appendices/appendixa.cfm),
"The buildings, grounds, and other property of Miami University campuses are dedicated to the educational mission of the University. Use of the buildings, grounds, and other property of the University is reserved for the direct and indirect support of the teaching, research, and service missions; of the University’s administrative functions; and of the students’ campus-life activities."

That means if this was an activity of a registered student organization, it is considered one of the purposes for the use of the property, so it's completely legitimate (and the police and university would be guilty of disrupting this activity and violating their policies). If it wasn't, it still has some legitimacy since students did it.

I've searched the MiamiU website, and the only mention of permits deals with parking, not protests.