Friday, November 24

USAC resolution supports right to protest assembly

Stating their support for students’ rights to education and political activism, the undergraduate student government passed a resolution Feb. 23, addressing the Feb. 8 protest incident at UC Irvine.

The protest, which occurred during a speech by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, interrupted a university guest lecture event in a flurry of shouts, cheers and claps from members of the student audience.

Originally titled “A Resolution in Support of Free Speech at the University of California,” the resolution expressed students’ right to assemble in protest without facing the possibility of academic repercussions.

During the meeting, more than 50 members of various campus student organizations attended to present their views to councilmembers. Video footage from the incident was also shown.

Debate about issues relating to the resolution ran for over an hour before the Undergraduate Students Association Council was able to proceed to agenda items. Concerns included Oren’s relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the resolution’s ability to potentially divide the UCLA student body on political and academic grounds.

Councilmembers debated for an additional hour and passed several amendments before the resolution was approved 9-2-1 under a new title, “A Resolution in Support of the Right of Assembly and Protest at the University of California.”

“In regards to the number of people that came out, I can tell that it meant a lot to students,” said Addison Huddy, USAC general representative.

The resolution was eventually passed in a general agreement that the 11 student protesters at the UCI event should not have to face the possibility of expulsion, said Shahida Bawa, USAC internal vice president.

“We stand with these students in solidarity as students interested in pursuing an education,” Bawa said.

Some students and councilmembers felt the possibility of dismissal was a consequence disproportional to the nature of the protesters’ actions, Bawa said.

“There is a clear distinction between political activism and the right to education,” she said. “Your political activism should not garner any consequences on your academic rights; the punishment must relate to the act.”

In issuing sanctions for inappropriate student behavior, UCLA administration evaluates on a case-to-case basis, with repercussions ranging from community service to dismissal from the UC system, said Robert Naples, associate vice chancellor of Student and Campus Life.

“Any action that is determined to violate the student code of conduct after due process faces a whole range of sanctions,” he said. “It’s hard to judge, but you have to look at each one individually.”

During the meeting, there was some contention about the council’s right to comment on the means of student protest. While some councilmembers felt the disrespectful manner of the protests should be addressed, others maintained that a student council should not debate the validity of student actions, but rather the right to perform them.

“Students had to interrupt an event for which a substantial amount of time and money were spent,” Huddy said. “You can pass out fliers or protest outside. There wasn’t anything in the resolution against what the students did and the ways they could do it.”

Examples of historical student activism, from Vietnam War resistance to protests of apartheid laws in Africa, were also mentioned to underscore students’ power to impact both regional and international change, Bawa said.

“Public display is not a criminal act,” said Jarrod Goldberg, a member of Bruins for Israel, at the meeting on Tuesday. “If we try to inhibit student rights, we are setting a precedent that is dangerous.”

Yet administration guidelines do not support unchecked freedom of speech and assembly. While the UCLA Student Code of Conduct does not object to student free speech and activism, it details various limitations to the extent of activism allowed on campus, said Debra Geller, chief administrative officer of Student and Campus Life.

“The right to free speech, whether it is popular speech or not, is inherent to what we do in a public university, but we have a right to impose time, place and manner limitations so that it doesn’t interfere with the educational mission of the institution or threaten the safety and well-being of members of the campus community,” she said.

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