Updated Feb. 20, 2014 at 2:18 a.m.
When administrators decided to shut down New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s lecture last semester, they did so partly because some feared that mounting student and community member protests could turn violent.
That detail is one of several revealed in yesterday’s release of the first report from the Committee on the Events of October 29, 2013, which President Christina Paxson tasked with a fact-finding mission upon its creation last semester.
The report, which was emailed to the community yesterday afternoon, describes the events leading up to and during the planned October lecture by Kelly hosted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. The report concludes that administrators canceled the lecture due to concerns that Department of Public Safety officers would not be able to address conflict with protestors unaffiliated with the Brown community.
In its first phase, the committee — headed by Professor of Africana Studies Anthony Bogues and comprising five faculty members, two administrators, two undergraduates and one graduate student — met with participants on all sides of the event, including students, faculty members and community members.
The committee also looked over documentation, correspondence and publicity surrounding the event.
Yesterday’s report marks the conclusion of the first half of the committee’s work. Having established the facts surrounding the incident, the committee will now turn to broader questions of inclusivity, community dialogues and freedom of speech, with recommendations set to be released by the end of the semester, Bogues told The Herald.
Though not on the original list of potential speakers for the annual Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture, Kelly was suggested by the Krieger family, who endowed the lecture fund, according to the report. His official invitation last May included potential topics for the lecture, such as how terrorism has affected policing in major cities after September 11th.
The report states that the event title and description provided by Kelly’s staff did not prompt “any reaction or discussion by Center staff before adoption.”
The Taubman Center was not aware of concerns about the event until leaders received an email from an alum about two weeks before the lecture, which denounced the decision to invite Kelly as the speaker because of the controversial stop-and-frisk policies he implemented in New York, according to the report.
In the week leading up to the lecture, the Taubman Center was contacted by a student asking to meet and discuss concerns about the event. On Oct. 25, “students delivered (a) petition to the Taubman Center, along with the signatures of approximately 300 students, alumni and community members,” according to the report.
The report states that tensions between students and the administration were high at the time of the Kelly protest in part due to the Corporation’s decision the previous weekend not to divest the University’s endowment from major coal companies. This contentious atmosphere was critical to the context of the event, Bogues said.
“A lot of the students we interviewed mentioned it,” he said, adding that “there was a general feeling of not being listened to” by the administration.
The day before the lecture, administrators and Orr met to discuss reshaping the event to include a lecture simulcast in the next room and a discussion between students and Kelly after the lecture. They then met with a student, who brought a petition of about 500 signatures, to discuss a possible meeting with Kelly, which did not come to fruition.
Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn, currently acting dean of the College, “offered to sponsor and fund another event later in the academic year so that other perspectives on the controversial topic of stop-and-frisk could be heard,” according to the report.
During this meeting and before the lecture, the Student Code of Conduct policies on student protest were reviewed. It is standard procedure to read this policy before a potentially controversial event, said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations.
University administrators also decided the day before the lecture not to remove event posters that had been defaced with swastikas, determining that “the symbols should be protected as a form of free speech and the flyers would not be taken down,” according to the report.
When informed by the Taubman Center of the controversy surrounding the lecture on campus, the report states, Kelly “expected some degree of controversy on college campuses, while the Krieger family was hopeful that the controversy would lead to fruitful discussion.”
The report also notes the uniformed police attendance at the event, which it says was perceived by protestors as “a visual symbol of the potentially threatening nature of Commissioner Kelly’s policies for Rhode Islanders of color.” The officers included Providence police, whose presence had been approved by the University, and DPS officers.
According to the report, administrators canceled the talk after 25 minutes because of disruption by student and community members.
“I want to make this clear that you’re cancelling this event. … I’m willing to speak,” Kelly said, according to the report.
In its next phase, the committee hopes to expand the scope of students and faculty members it interviews to include those who were not involved with the events, Bogues said. The goal is to determine how the community should move forward in addressing the University’s handling of issues of freedom of expression and to work toward defining community values, Bogues said.
“We want the University community to really help us out in the second part,” he said.
The second phase will also provide a chance for the University to examine its relationship with the city and state communities, he said.
While the committee will not issue recommendations about disciplinary action, its reports will provide context for proceedings in the Office of Student Life, which is currently reviewing questions of potential violations of the Student Code of Conduct by protestors using its normal procedures, Quinn said.
The committee does not have a release date for its second-phase recommendations or findings, but it will conclude its findings by the end of the semester, Bogues said.