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Students who shut down University of Oregon president’s speech panic after they’re charged

You have ‘power,’ so we are blameless

Threatening to investigate students for disrupting campus events works wonders on their willingness to negotiate.

A week after they received formal charges of “disruption of university” and “failure to comply” for shutting down the State of the University speech by University of Oregon President Michael Schill, participants warned Schill that he had “escalated tensions” by holding them accountable (!).

Student, faculty and union leaders signed an open letter to Schill and the board of trustees, posted on the activist UO Student Collective Facebook page, that blames Schill for comparing the protesters to the fascists they claim to fight.

“Your actions since this event have potentially endangered these students by calling out their actions in a national venue” – Schill’s New York Times op-ed – and “obscure[d] the concerns which precipitated the protest,” they wrote.

Because the protesters fought “power,” they aren’t responsible for violating written university policies, or something:

[Schill] narrowly framed the circumstances in an analysis of free speech devoid of any consideration of the relationship between power and access to platforms for speech. Any appreciation of academic freedom and free speech must grapple with power. For faculty and graduate instructors, it is understood that any privileged platform brings responsibilities to assure speech opportunities for all voices in the classroom, not just the more vocal, visible and privileged. The bedrock of civil society rests on the parallel notion that democracy works when spaces are available for all voices, even those viewed as disruptive, unusual, or repugnant. In hearing these voices, a collective adjustment to institutions can be advanced to include the marginalized or oppressed, and repugnant or bigoted views can be rebutted. Power and platform are at the center of our practical applications of free speech and academic freedom. So far, you have not given consideration to this important dimension of the subject.

In other words, the head of a major public university must allow protesters on stage for as long as they want during his own speech announcing a major unrestricted donation to the school.

The signatories blame Schill for “online commenters” who are, unsurprisingly, criticizing and mocking the protesters:

Under this national mockery, our students are castigated and put in a vulnerable position; they are denied an equivalent platform for their version of the events, and have lost any semblance of due process.

They apparently try to coopt Schill’s call for “debate and discussion” about the shutdown of his speech by arguing these accused students can debate the investigation, yet as the Daily Emerald reports today, the students are boycotting their own proceedings:

The students did not choose from the two options given to them last month by the school: to either accept responsibility for their actions and meet with UO administration, which will result in no sanctions; or they can contest the charges and have an administrative conference to determine if members are responsible for committing the alleged violations.

Did you get that? Assuming they actually participated in the shutdown, if students simply cop to it, they won’t be punished.

MOREStudent mob shuts down UO president’s speech to ‘stand against fascism’

The Daily explains this no-sanctions “special option,” which just sounds like another diversity training:

[S]tudents would “participate in small group dialogue with a variety of Officers of Administration who have expressed interest in meeting with you to hear your concerns and work with you to try to address them,” according to the email [to protesters].

The response to the two options is perhaps the most disingenuous part of the letter. First it says:

Instead of a healthy campus conversation, your administration is pursuing sanctions. The threat of sanctions stifle this important conversation.

Then later, it omits the no-sanctions option when it says one of the options is to “accept the charges,” full stop. The leaders imply incredulously and falsely that Schill has identified individual participants in the protest and called them “guilty in the local and national media.”

The letter basically accuses the administration of setting up the protesters by leaving the event after 10 minutes of constant disruptions – Schill was never able to even ascend the podium – and prerecording Schill’s speech (because protesters had promised to disrupt it).

Some of their concerns are legitimately procedural and factual.

They say the Student Conduct and Community Standards Committee didn’t oversee the charges, and that some students received charge letters who weren’t at the event but apparently talked about it on social media, leading to their misidentification. Participants also haven’t been told why the Office of Student Advocacy won’t give them advice on responding to the charges, except for “conflict of interest.”

But that’s not really the point of the letter. Now that students either have to admit to being whiny brats who take away the rights of others to hear a speaker and interfere with university business at its most basic level, or face a disciplinary proceeding like an adult, “it is time to de-escalate”:

We ask that you cease the punitive measures against students and engage in a dialogue without the cloud of threat or intimidation.

The letter was signed by Imani Dorsey, the student government’s state affairs commissioner of the Associated Students; Michael Dreiling, president of the teaching and research union, United Academics; Jessica Neafie, president of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation; and Chris Sinclair, president of the University Senate.

The University Senate is going to give the accused students the floor at its Nov. 15 meeting, the letter says.

Read the open letter and Daily Emerald report.

MORE: UO president compares his students to fascists they protest

IMAGE: STUDIO GRAND OUEST/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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