University News

U. to create committee in wake of Kelly protest

The group is charged with determining whether the protesters will face disciplinary action

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, November 7, 2013

President Christina Paxson will form a committee to review actions surrounding the cancellation of New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s Oct. 29 lecture after protestors halted his speech, Paxson wrote in a community-wide email Wednesday.

The Committee on the Events of October 29th will also address how to effectively maintain a “deep commitment to the free exchange of ideas,” Paxson wrote.

After an initial review of the event, the committee will determine whether students who protested will face disciplinary action, as protests that “infringe upon” the free exchange of ideas are banned in the Code of Student Conduct.

“Halting a lecture, debate or any public forum is an unacceptable form of protest,” the Code of Student Conduct states.

Paxson, the Faculty Executive Committee and “relevant student groups” will help appoint members to the committee, which will include five faculty members, two undergraduate students and one graduate student.

The University will likely announce committee members within the next week, wrote Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations, in an email to The Herald.

Graduate Student Council President Keila Davis GS and Dean of the Graduate School Peter Weber will each nominate two graduate students for the committee, Davis said at Wednesday night’s GSC meeting. Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 will have the final say on which graduate student serves.

Undergraduate Council of Students President Todd Harris ’14.5 said he has communicated with administrators about how to determine which undergraduates should serve on the committee, though he did not have information on how those students would be picked.

At the GSC meeting, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn said it remains to be seen whether students who protested Kelly’s lecture will be allowed to serve on the committee.

The committee’s composition “will be very telling of what this committee aims to do,” said Marguerite Joutz ’15, a leader of Brown Conversation, which hosted an event Saturday night about both the protests and the role free discourse plays at Brown.

Incorporating input from faculty members, staffers, undergraduates and graduate students is important, said Iris Bahar, chair of the FEC and a professor of engineering. “This should really be a process that involves several constituents.”

The committee will seek advice and may host a forum soliciting community input, she added.

Some students at the GSC meeting voiced concerns over a lack of representation because only one graduate student will be on the committee.

Once committee members are chosen, they will begin the first of two phases of recommendations. In the first phase, the committee will “review the activities and circumstances related to” Kelly’s lecture and “identify issues that may have contributed to the disruption,” Paxson wrote. The second phase will allow the committee to discuss the role of free expression and dialogue on campus, Paxson added.

The University hopes to complete this phase relatively quickly while still allowing time for sufficient discussion, Quinn wrote.

“The decision to form the task force is about taking into consideration the fact that there’s a broad context for understanding everything that happened,” Klawunn said.

The committee must review everything, ranging from how the event was organized to its title, she added.

“There are some things that are unclear and not everyone knows all of the circumstances,” Bahar said.

In the days following the event, there was “a lot of discussion with students of color who felt not totally integrated into the community,” said Rebecca Millstein ’16.

She added that she thinks trying to fix this by formulating a committee is a “really great idea.”

Other students were critical of the decision.

“How many committees is Paxson going to create? There are so many,” said Ayane Ezaki ’13.5. “Is that the way she’s going to run the University? Relegate every sensitive topic to a committee?”

Though a majority of students supported protesters’ actions outside Kelly’s lecture or petitioning to have the event canceled, about 73 percent indicated they did not approve of protests causing the event to be shut down, according to a poll The Herald conducted Monday. About 71 percent of students supported petitioning, and about 80 percent of students favored outside protests.

Paxson sent out two letters on Wednesday — one to undergraduates and another to the entire campus community. In the first email, Paxson said she wanted to write to undergraduates separately and shared with them what her next letter, to the entire campus community, would entail.

Paxson “felt strongly about writing directly to undergraduates” after spending a “great deal of time this last week” speaking with undergraduates in forums and smaller gatherings, Quinn wrote.

Paxson’s emails argued for the importance of free expression and protest, as long as they occur under “acceptable means.”

But, Paxson wrote, the means by which protesters stopped Kelly’s lecture were unacceptable and a violation of the code of conduct students agree to before arriving on campus.

Joutz said she hasn’t read through the entire Code of Student Conduct and thinks most students have not read it either.

“I don’t think administrators can disregard policy, though,” she added.

Disciplining protestors would be “unfair,” said Johanna Thompson-Westra ’14.

After completing the initial review of events, the committee will see “if any further follow-up is appropriate” for those individuals who participated in the protest, Klawunn said.

“That decision will be made out of an examination of all of the circumstances,” she said. There is no “predetermined outcome” for code violation, she added.

If the University chooses to take disciplinary action, it “shouldn’t be super harsh,” said Nicola Malakooti ’16.

Diego Arene-Morley ’16 said that while meeting Kelly with such force was not effective, neither is meeting students with force.

“I don’t think that punishment is going to make us feel any better about the problems,” he added.


-With reporting by Isobel Heck and Maggie Livingstone


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  1. brown student says:

    1) Brown administration screws up by inviting Ray Kelly to campus, promoting him like it would an actual scholar/person with ideas worth listening to, and glossing his role as an architect of structural racism with the ridiculously euphemistic heading “Proactive Policing.” 2) Student organizers let administration know that it screwed up and ask that it retract the invitation. 3) Administration tells student organizers to f*ck off. 4) Student organizers say, ok, we’re not going to let you screw up our campus discourse in this way & themselves stop the talk. 5) Administration forms a committee to punish student organizers.

    • If that’s what you tell yourself to make you feel better, sure.

    • That is a laughable stance to take. At no point did the student organizers represent the majority of the student body, and even if they had, they could make no assertions of power over who gets to talk on campus. If the administration chooses speakers that the student body truly doesn’t want to hear, the students should boycott the lectures and leave the speaker to talk to an empty room. I wonder why the student organizers didn’t pursue this tactic. Is it because if those opposed to letting Ray Kelly speak didn’t attend, others would have filled the empty seats? Should the administration have cancelled the lecture when others were interested? What gives anyone the right to silence forcefully an idea on Brown’s campus?

    • I’ll rewrite this for you.

      1) Student organizers broke the Brown Code of Student Conduct, which they indicate acceptance of before enrolling.

      “Protest is a necessary and acceptable means of expression within the
      Brown community. However, protest becomes unacceptable when it obstructs
      the basic exchange of ideas. Such obstruction is a form of censorship,
      no matter who initiates it or for what reasons.”

      2) Administration forms a committee to punish student organizers.

  2. I would like to see the administration uphold the Code of Student Conduct and punish those responsible for the Ray Kelly nonsense. However, I am a little worried about what kind of punitive action the administration can take. What less than a suspension could the administration dole out as punishment? While the actions of those students were certainly reprehensible (now corroborated by campus wide polls), a suspension might be too harsh. Then again, something like probation would probably not be sufficient to send a clear message about what is acceptable behavior on campus.

  3. Jean Braucher '72 says:

    The Brown Daily Herald of October 30 includes this sentence: “[Vice President] Klawunn said the University does not plan to pursue disciplinary action against the students who disrupted the lecture.” If this reporting is accurate, how can the administration now be talking about investigating students for disciplinary action? Even if the reporting was inaccurate, did the administration quickly correct the story with a public statement?
    A day or two later, the administration held a big community forum at which some students talked about their role in the protest and their personal experiences of being racially profiled that led them to do so. This was supposed to be a community-building event. And now some of these students are going to be subjected to investigation for discipline? Some community.
    As a civil liberties activist who has headed my state’s ACLU, I have trouble seeing a debate within a private institution about who should get the honor of delivering an endowed lecture (perhaps with payment of an honorarium or fee?) as a question of “free speech,” given that the First Amendment protects only against government suppression of speech. But if we are going to import constitutional principles into Brown’s internal governance, it has now created an issue of due process by representing publicly that there would be no discipline, then encouraging students to speak publicly about their roles, and a week later announcing plans for investigations and consideration of discipline.
    The only fair solution is for the president to quickly take discipline of students off the table. Then some true community-building might begin.

    • You’ve made a terrific point about the issue of due process. I’m having a bit of trouble completely agreeing with your point on community-building though. Yes, it is important that Brown quickly moves on from this event and not disciplining the protestors would surely go a long way to help that. On the other hand, however, these protestors did break the Student Code of Conduct, and Brown also has a duty to the community at large to uphold the Code. The situation would perhaps have been less severe if the protestors themselves publicly acknowledge the harmful effects of their actions to the university. However, (at least as far as I know) the protestors stood by their actions–celebrating it as a victory.

      As a university-college, Brown is first and foremost an educational institution with laws set to uphold its basic channels of learning. Leaving the protestors off the hook without any kind of investigation of wrongdoing would surely send a wrong message about Brown’s stance on students interrupting education. Setting up a committee to investigate and consider disciplining the protestors would perhaps send a better message regarding Brown’s commitment to its communally agreed-upon educational standards (one could even argue that this is rather what true community building is all about). It would also let the protestors know that to Brown (and even to the Brown community at large if the BDH polls are to be trusted) the actions of the protestors are anything but a victory to the university.

      • Jean Braucher '72 says:

        Brown University as an educational institution is properly held to higher standards than its undergraduates. It must model fair behavior to maintain respect. Brown cannot get away with having a VP indicate the university won’t discipline students, then encourage reliance on that statement by convening a community meeting at which President Paxson called on students to talk about their roles in the protest, and then say a week later that it will investigate students for discipline after all (as an alumna, I got an email from the president to that effect). President Paxson now has a responsibility as an educator to call off investigation for purposes of discipline in light of the public statement of her VP and her own subsequent behavior at the community meeting. We could debate whether the VP and President made mistakes initially, but President Paxson clearly made a mistake in announcing investigation for purposes of discipline after the signals the institution sent to the contrary. The VP’s initial statement might be justified as a way to focus on learning from the event rather than trying to figure out who among hundreds of students and non-students involved in the protest could be tagged with responsibility for chanting or shouting. Investigation for discipline, given the messy event in question, sounds like a fools’ errand to me, one that could easily turn into a witch hunt. The President’s behavior at the community meeting might have been a good way to rebuild a sense of trust with undergraduates. Whether wise or not, the combined behavior of these two top administrators would make it unconscionable for Brown to pursue disciplinary investigation of students in this incident. President Paxson should correct her error now and call it off. Her special committee on the incident could still look into what the institution and its students can learn from it. There were plenty of mistakes all around, from the planning to the protest to the aftermath.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Your “civil liberties activism” seems to be strictly limited to viewpoints you like, since you don’t seem to have a problem with the original lecture being shouted down.

  4. ThirteenthLetter says:

    These students need to learn that free speech isn’t something that only they are allowed to have. Perhaps getting kicked off campus for a year or two would focus their minds.

  5. Don Roach '99 says:

    For the students who shouted down Kelly, let this be a lesson to you. Free speech is a two way street. Let’s assume you are right that Kelly is Ray-cist and that he supports racial profiling. Did your shouts, in any way,convince other rational people that you are correct and that we should follow your lead? I’ll answer for you and say no. When confronting opinions that are different than your own, just ask yourself how you’d like to be treated if you were about to give a lecture in front of a group that by and large disagreed with your opinion. If you do that, next time I feel you will make very different choices. And, I’m not for the university disciplining these students beyond the shame of acting like idiots.

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