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U. to create committee in wake of Kelly protest

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

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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