On Friday, October 17 in Havemeyer 309, there will be a town hall about the USenate’s review of the University Rules of Conduct, which govern the rules around free speech at campus. Pre-registration is not required and anyone with a CUID can attend.
Overview of the Rules
After the ’68 protests, the University came up with new rules regulating protests and free speech at Columbia. These rules have stayed mostly the same since their inception with only minor changes in the first few years after they were instituted. The rules, which can be viewed here, cover a rather broad set of actions that could be considered violations. For example, in 1992, students who were blocking only one entrance of Hamilton and leaving the rest open received one-year suspensions. Prezbo himself has said, “There have always been things that have struck me as odd about the rules.”
The current rules administrator, Dr. Stephen Rittenberg, is stepping down, prompting the University Senate to look over the rules in a subcommittee. University Senator Jared Odessky considers the review of the Rules of Conduct to be the “most important structural change” that he has seen in his four years at Columbia.
The Committee on the Rules of University Conduct, whose deliberations are private, is made up of a wide range of senators from the students, faculty, and administration. Columbia College University Senator Jared Odessky and CCSC VP of Policy Sejal Singh are the undergraduate representatives on the committee.
The committee will only give recommendations to the senate as a whole. The committee will decide either to change the rules or keep them as they are. If they decide against changing the rules, the Senate as a whole could still vote to change them, but they almost certainly would not. If they decide to change the rules, they will recommend certain changes to the whole senate, which would likely approve them, although it could potentially make some changes. Once the senate has approved them, the Board of Trustees will vote on the changes.
What Could Change
The Rules Committee has not made any formal propositions for changes and will not for some time. However, there are some directions talk of change has been pointing in.
The judicial process for the rules is under scrutiny. Currently, for simple violations, students have to go through dean’s discipline, but, for serious violations, they can choose dean’s discipline or a process judged externally by someone with no official connection to Columbia. The external process, unlike dean’s discipline, allows witnesses and is public, but any guilty verdict for students in the process requires either expulsion or suspension, whereas the deans can hand out lighter punishments. Rittenberg has advised against the external process because of its high cost.
The rules may also become more specific. Currently, many things could constitute a rules violation, but Rittenberg is generous to those accused of violations and declines to prosecute many of them. More specific rules could prevent more prosecutions from a Rules Administrator who is less generous. In a Spec op-ed, Singh and Odessky wrote that people have asked them to look at “unclear standards for introducing evidence in hearing procedures, the role of permits for protests granted by University Event Management, the responsibilities of Presidential Delegates, and the definitions of key language within the Rules (such as ‘private office,’ and ‘disrupt a University function’).”
In a press conference on Monday, Co-Chair Christopher Riano, who lectures on constitutional law, expressed support for a “solid statement” of the university’s support for free speech, saying “there should be right there in the beginning something that says ‘We celebrate free speech on this campus.’”
The Town Hall
The town hall will begin with a brief summary of the history of the rules followed by introductions by the Rules Committee panelists at the forum. Questions can be asked either in-person or through note cards. According to Riano, since the panelists have not made any recommendations yet, the panelists want to listen to what the audience has to say rather than have a discussion with them. Activist and political groups have been notified about the town hall. A transcript of the town hill will also be produced.
Registration is not required, and a link to register for the event sent out in an email did not work for at least some students. Interestingly, Havemeyer 309 has 330 seats, but one Facebook event for the town hall lists 500 as going.
Another town hall will be held on Monday, November 10. If the committee decides it wants to make changes, another town hall will likely be held in the Spring semester about the possible changes. Students can also email questions and comments to any member of the Rules Committee.
Beautiful town hall probably somewhere in Europe via Shutterstock