Protest or Problem? Rutgers Revises Its “Disruption” Policy

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Seats and a velvet rope served as a makeshift barrier between the audience and the Rutgers University Board of Governors during its meeting this month in Winants Hall.
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Rutgers University has shored up policy language so that community members and administrators alike may better understand the line between a protest and disruption.

The Board of Governors approved two resolutions earlier this month defining what, exactly, constitutes a disturbance that violates Rutgers policy. Among other things, the revisions lay out a list of actions—from obstructing traffic and damaging property to disrupting university business—that infringe upon the rights of others.

The move follows a wave of dissent that has rolled through Rutgers’ campuses and the City of New Brunswick in recent months. Since Donald Trump began his ascent to the presidency, thousands of people have made the university a hotbed of rebellion.

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“It was necessary to revise university policy,” Richard Roper, a member of the Board of Governors, said during its most recent meeting, “in order to more clearly define the criteria of a disruption so the university community can easily identify when conduct will be considered to intentionally or recklessly interfere with the university’s operations or infringe upon the rights of other members of the community.”

Rutgers policy used to define a disruption as anything that interfered with people’s rights to go about their business or university activities.

Now, the code of conduct points to incidents in which people obstruct traffic, block entrances or exits to buildings or driveways, interfere with educational activities, harass passersby, preclude a scheduled speaker from being heard, disturb scheduled ceremonies or events, damage property or “engage in any other activities that disrupt university business or infringe upon the rights of others.”

The takeaway? If your demonstration negatively affects someone else, it’s possible you’re in violation of Rutgers policy.

The policy used to include a formal warning that university administrators were supposed to provide verbatim to violators. It suggested administrators give them a time by when the disruption must cease.

The new policy states that administrators, if possible, must simply tell people that they are in violation of the disruption policy.

Rutgers used to advise staffers that they had a “twofold responsibility” to help restore order and protect against injury. Instead, the new policy says certain administrators may be called on to help end the disruption.

At the same time, the policy cements Rutgers’ belief in freedom of expression and its importance in the academic community. Rather than clamp down on dissent, the policy appears designed to foster political speech in a manner that doesn’t impact others.

The revisions come on the heels of a major protest on Jan. 31 during which more than 1,000 anti-Trump demonstrators assembled outside Brower Commons on College Avenue and marched through New Brunswick, temporarily shutting down streets to vehicular traffic.

Prior to that, a dozen or so students in December effectively ended a Board of Governors meeting in Winants Hall in an effort to push Rutgers to declare itself a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented immigrants. Protesters chanted and staged a sit-in as the board hurriedly approved the consent agenda and exited the room. During this month’s meeting, a line of chairs and a red velour rope separated the audience and the board in Winants Hall.

Karen Smith, a Rutgers spokesperson, declined to say whether revisions to the school’s disruption policy was due to the December sit-in or any other event. She also didn’t say whether the new policy would prohibit the January protest, which shut down traffic, an action that Rutgers prohibits on or off campus.

“We were reviewing our policies, which we do periodically, and we felt we needed to sharpen and clarify the definition of disruption,” Smith told TAPinto New Brunswick.

Under Rutgers policy, administrators may call police to contain such disruptions.

People found in violation of the policy may face any number of disciplinary actions. That could range from a warning or reprimand to probation or expulsion, according to the university’s code of conduct. They might also be required to perform community service or complete an assignment.

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