After stifled protests, University of Minnesota faculty want policy change

Some University of Minnesota faculty members say the school’s policies impede students’ constitutional rights.

After some student protesters faced potential disciplinary action for violating University policies earlier this spring, a group of faculty members wants to change policies they say hinder students’ free speech and assembly rights.

“We do feel that students and others have a right to dissent, and that includes protesting if they see fit,” Faculty Senate Vice Chair Eva von Dassow said.

Von Dassow said it’s important the University fosters a welcoming environment for students who want to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Political science professor and Faculty Senate member Teri Caraway said she and other faculty members plan to have more discussions about current policies that they say prevent students from protesting. The group may push to change those rules this fall.

Caraway is one of about 60 professors who authored a letter to University leaders last month supporting the protests put on by Whose Diversity? and Students for a Democratic Society in March and April, respectively.

After the two on-campus protests, some students involved with the groups received letters from the University saying they could face sanctions for violating school policy and the Student Conduct Code.

That drove some faculty members who disagreed with the administration to ask for their own sanctions.

In a letter to administrators, many faculty members questioned the use of the Student Conduct Code to punish those who protested on campus.

Caraway said the conduct code shouldn’t be used to hinder students’ free speech on campus.

Though none of the students involved in the protests received sanctions, some said they still have reservations about the policies the University said they violated.

Campus group Whose Diversity?, which protested renovations to the second floor of Coffman Union in March, didn’t receive sanctions for violating the Student Conduct Code because the group’s protest was a “low-level behavioral concern at a time of strain on University resources,” according to a letter sent to the students from the University on Monday.

SDS members also faced disciplinary actions after their protest of Condoleezza Rice’s speech in April. The University wrote a letter to those students saying the group violated the school’s outdoor space policy, which states that the use of amplified sound is only permitted between noon and 1 p.m. on weekdays except for Friday.

SDS member Maggie Kilgo said the University’s outdoor sound policy is “super restrictive” because the time window is narrow and doesn’t allow for students to fully express their viewpoints.

Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young said the outdoor space policy was created to not disrupt classes and other University business. Though the policy is always in place, she said the University typically enforces it only when there’s a complaint.

After receiving support from faculty members, students from both groups are letting them fight the policies.

Von Dassow said she wants the policy to be revised to allow students to protest whenever they feel the need to express themselves.

Caraway said she hopes to bring these concerns to the Faculty Senate and continue the discussion to ensure students can feel safe stating their opinions on campus.

“There are going to be disagreements; there are going to be people who speak out,” Caraway said. “But as long as it’s peaceful, maybe we should create a space for that on campus.”

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