By TONIA HILL
University of Chicago (U. of C.) faculty and students met for a panel discussion, Thursday, May 11, regarding how people are disciplined for protesting at events held on campus.
Students and faculty talked at length about the Picker Committee’s recent recommendations to update administrative policies relating to disruptive actions and conduct.
The conversation held Thursday comes ahead of a vote by the faculty senate that will be reviewing changes to the university’s policy on dealing with people who disrupt campus events.
Also, the discussion on Thursday is relevant to the conversation about free speech on college campuses in the wake of the current political climate.
The decision before the council is whether or not it will adopt recommendations from the Committee on University Discipline for Disruptive Conduct.
Last year, U. of C. Provost appointed the committee to “review and make recommendations about procedures for student disciplinary matters involving disruptive conduct including interference with freedom of inquiry or debate,” according to the report.
Proposed changes from the committee include reshaping what is deemed disruptive conduct from members of the university community to any individual or group of people who are not affiliated with the university.
Other recommendations include forming a revised centralized disciplinary system. If recommendations are implemented people within the disciplinary system would be prohibited from speaking about their cases publicly.
Alejandra Azuero Ph.D. student and a member of Graduate Students United (GSU) and UofC Resists called for a transparent process and urged the faculty senate to withhold implementing the recommendations because there had not been “an adequate internal campus discussion.” Instead, Azuero said both faculty and staff must be a part of the process together.
Everett Pelzman U. of C. student and a member of UofC Resists spoke out against the proposed centralized disciplinary system.
He cited past disruptions and more recent examples such as organizers who pushed for a trauma center on the south side. Pelzman said if the proposed recommendations had been in place at the time then it would have suppressed the voice of protestors. Pelzman said protest is the “lifeblood of U. of C.”
“If we truly appreciate the people’s history of the University of Chicago instead of criminalizing disruptive conduct, welcome and facilitate protests and public demonstrations as a central to the health the growth and the future of this community,” Pelzman said.
Randal Picker, chair of the committee said on Thursday that the committee’s recommendations were being revised and would be delivered to Committee of the Council.
Anton Ford, U. of C. professor of philosophy spoke of the climate on college campuses nationwide in regards to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
“The suppression of protests nationally is also taking place on university campuses at the same time that this university [U. of C.] is proposing to introduce a more severe regime of discipline on university campuses,” Ford said.
Ford also mentioned that the U. of C. in his view protects the speech of visitors on campus over students and faculty. Untenured faculty members and students he said work under a constant threat of fear of being fired for expressing their opinion.
“It’s about freedom of expression, but the freedom of expression is not ours. The university sides with the visitor not with the student as a matter of principle,” Ford said. “Untenured professors at this university are afraid to speak their minds on the record about freedom of speech. They are afraid to say what they think. One thing that chills speech is the threat of losing health care.”
During the Q&A tensions were high between the audience members and Picker and Christopher Wild, who is also a member of the committee. Members of the audience claimed the process was not transparent enough while Wild argued that the committee over the span of the last year had engaged with students to get their feedback on recommendations from the committee’s report.
Picker argued that its core the university is a place of free speech and expression.
“We look at the ideas. We don’t look at the speaker,” Picker said. “We don’t question their motives. We examine the ideas that are [at] the heart of the University of Chicago. We wrestle with ideas we don’t attack speakers.”
The faculty senate will meet on Tuesday, May 23. If the council votes against adopting the recommendations then U. of C. would continue to operate under the 1970 All-University Disciplinary System for Disruptive Conduct.