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CUNY proposes limits on expressive activity, suspends student activists

Amity Paye | 11/7/2013, 11 a.m.
Students and faculty worry CUNY's proposed Policy on Expressive Activity may be unconstitutional

“The City University of New York [CUNY] is committed to the free exchange of ideas and expression of all points of view for members of the university community, including students, faculty and staff. Freedom of expression and assembly, however, are subject to the need to maintain safety and order,” reads the proposed CUNY Policy on Expressive Activity that was released to the public late last month.

This could potentially be unconstitutional,” said Herb Boyd, faculty advisor to the former Morales/Shakur Community Center where a great deal of student activism was organized. “Essentially what they are saying is that they are just providing some limitations on freedoms of speech. But any violation of that is a violation of one of the oldest guarantees we have in the nation … it’s a far reaching activity in terms of limiting expressions and has to be challenged.”

Boyd is worried that the policy may have broader implications that may include monitoring or restricting what professors can say in their classrooms or who they can bring in as guests for their classes.

Officially, the policy would establish reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on expressive activities. It requires students and faculty to give notice (location, date, time and number of participants) of planned demonstrations, restricts demonstrations to “public fora,” and threatens students and faculty who violate the policy with disciplinary action.

As of now, the only CUNY policy that the Amsterdam News could find that comes close to these type of restrictions is the Maintenance of Public Order rules, which restrict the academic community from prohibiting others from expressing their rights, prohibit disorderly conduct and denounce violence of any kind, among other provisions.

The new policy was initially scheduled to be voted on by the CUNY board of trustees on Nov. 25, but the date has been moved to an unspecified date next semester. Despite the fact that the policy is not in place, CUNY activists say they think it has already unofficially been instated.

“It seems that it has set in earlier, given the fact that we were banished from campus for our activism. This whole trajectory, including the privatization, the militarization—it’s one process to control and change CUNY altogether,” said Khalil Khan Vasquez, a student organizer with the Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC).

On Oct. 28, the same day the proposed policy was released, two student organizers, Vasquez and Tafadar Sourov, were approached by campus security as they left classes at City College. The two students, both active members of RSCC who have been leading protests against Gen. David Petraeus, ROTC and the closure of the Morales/Shakur Center, had their student identification cards confiscated and were asked to leave campus.

On the day of their temporary suspension, both students were also handed a letter from Juana Reina, vice president for student affairs at City College, that read, “It is alleged that you tried to gain forced entry into the NAC building during the protest. As a direct result of this allegation, you almost incited a riot. Based on the information provided by Public Safety, I have determined your behavior may present an imminent potential danger to others and an ongoing threat of disrupting the learning environment. Thus, the decision has been made to temporarily restrict you from campus.”

The incident in question was a protest against the closing of the Morales/Shakur Community Center at City College, where about 20 students and community members pushed past a police officer standing guard at an open door to the center. On the day of the protest, some protestors said they were trying to retake the center, which the college had closed down without warning, while others said they just wanted to retrieve personal belongings and organizational fliers from the space.

The Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee is calling for a massive mobilization on Friday, Nov. 8 at 9 a.m., right before the hearing where Khalil and Tafadar will be sentenced,” reads a statement from Tafadar. He and Vasques could be expelled or further suspended at this disciplinary hearing. “They believe that this marks an intensification in what they call the ‘militarization’ of CUNY and are mobilizing the community and student body to defend their university and its leaders.”