September 30, 2007

After Columbia Protestors Rushed the Minutemen

by PG

Many of the people opposed to Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia brought up an embarrassing incident last fall in which the university failed to secure an event at which the anti-immigration Minutemen spoke, which failure allowed anti-Minutemen students to run onstage with their signs and disrupt the speakers. For those who hadn't actually followed what happened afterwards, the remark in a Washington Post story about Columbia president Lee Bollinger that "Bollinger disciplined the students" may have been puzzling.

Quick summary via the Columbia Spectator:

University May Charge Four With Serious Violations, Oct. 17, 2006.

Activists Call for Students' Expulsion, Jan. 16, 2007.

"The Minuteman Project sued a California community college and its former president for violation of First Amendment rights and the California Constitution ... The lawsuit requests a temporary restraining order forcing the institution to immediately allow the Minuteman Project and other similar organizations access to campus facilities." Jan. 23, 2007

CU Sends Minutemen Note Expressing Regret, Feb. 27, 2007 (which sounds weirdly like the Minutemen's grandma passed away)

CU Refunds Republicans for Speech, March 1, 2007.

And a year-in-review piece published May 7, 2007 noted,

The release of disciplinary decisions for the students who stormed the stage has prompted many students to push for a review of the University's disciplinary system regarding protests, which hasn't been changed since the 1960s.

The University announced in December that students involved in rushing the stage would be tried under the Rules of University Conduct, University-wide rules that apply strictly to students who participate in protests on University property. All of the students who were charged faced simple rules violations, the lighter of two levels of punishment under current rules. Simple violations are dealt with through Dean's Discipline, a process by which a small group of deans hear a student's case and make a decision without public input.

When results of the trials were released, eight students had been charged with simple violations. At the end of the disciplinary process, three students, all of whom are Latino, received censures, which is a harsher punishment than the disciplinary warnings received by the other five. As a result, some students have accused the University of unfairness and racism.

"We need to have pretty drastic changes if we're going to have anything like justice," David Judd, SEAS '08 and one of those who was given a disciplinary warning, said.

In April, the Student Governing Board called on the University to review its current procedures to evaluate if there is a better and more transparent process by which students can be tried.

"The system wasn't transparent," said incoming SGB president Jonathan Seigel, CC '08. "You can't have a secret justice system. What's the point of having a disciplinary process at all if no one believes in it?"

From what I gathered from the articles, the disciplinary warnings were given to Monique Dols, David Judd, Andrew Tillet-Saks and Ryan Fukumori, while Martin Lopez, Karina Garcia and Cosette Olivio were censured, although Lopez allegedly did not climb on stage. Kevin Hahulski kicked Lopez in the head while Lopez was standing on the auditorium floor near the stage.

September 30, 2007 03:13 AM | TrackBack

Interesting echoes of Jena.

Posted by: Tom T. at October 1, 2007 07:53 AM

Do you mean because of the apparent differential in punishment tracking with whether the student was of a particular race?

I agree with the student government officers who have criticized the lack of transparency in the disciplinary process. The University should have set a clear rule about how to deal with the students who rushed the stage: all of those who could be identified through the Univision coverage as the first to come onstage (i.e. before there was any counter-movement from the Minutemen's supporters) should have been suspended. Those who came onstage after the Minutemen's supporters began physically attacking the protesters could claim that they were trying to break up the fighting, and should have gotten censured. Students should have been under an obligation to admit before the University's review of the videotape whether they had gone onstage; those who were honorable enough to make this pre-emptive admission should have gotten a reduction in punishment (from suspension to censure for the ringleaders; from censure to disciplinary warning for those who followed).

My first reaction is not to assume that the administration punished Latino students more severely because of their race, quite frankly because I can't imagine that those students would have kept relatively quiet about it if they could point to a clear racial unfairness. However, this reaction is tempered by the realization that there is a difference between justice and fairness. The University had it within its power to at least suspend all of the students; therefore the Latino students who received censure may not be protesting their punishment as unfair because they know it is just, and probably even merciful, even if non-Latino students received a greater measure of mercy.

Posted by: PG at October 1, 2007 12:33 PM
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