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Shut down hecklers when ‘serious disruption’ is expected, Mizzou speech committee advises

University will favor ‘academic’ work over protest

Administrators will have another tool against protests of the sort that wracked the University of Missouri last fall if they accept proposed recommendations from Mizzou’s top law scholars.

The recommendation from the Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech, and the Press was released to students staff and faculty on Thursday via an email from the interim chancellor.

The report, dated May 23, clarifies the purpose of the university is to provide a space for “academic” work, and says that existing policy should be enforced to resolve “conflicts” over use of public space.

“Except as provided by Missouri statutory law, University property is not a place of unrestricted public access,” says the report, drafted by faculty, students and staff members and a diversity administrator. “All [Mizzou] outdoor spaces … are subject to reasonable time, place and manner regulations.”

MORE: Mizzou might finally enforce its ban on protest camps 

In a letter to interim Chancellor Hank Foley and Faculty Council Chair Ben Trachtenberg, committee Chairman Bob Jerry said: “[W]e believe that adopting a clear policy on use of public space is the most direct way to both avoid and diffuse future conflicts over the use of such space.”

According to the May 23 letter, the recommendations are based on a review of “policies and regulations on public space and free expression” of 40 universities. Free speech policies adopted by New York University, Harvard University and a proposed policy at the University of Minnesota are specifically referenced in the report.

The committee was created in January by Trachtenberg and Foley to recommend regulations for university spaces to ensure safety and and “diffuse future conflicts” over the use of those spaces, while protecting freedom of speech.

The university won’t interfere with “orderly” protest and other forms of public gatherings so long as the event doesn’t “disrupt University function[s]” such as lectures and private group meetings, the report says.

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“Where serious disruption is anticipated, the University will … protect the speaker and the right of the audience to hear the speech,” the report says.

As preliminary reports had indicated, the committee report also recommends that Mizzou enforce a no-camping policy that has been on the books for seven decades.

The proposed policy charges campus police and university officials with the task of pointing out violations of the policy. If necessary, law enforcement would then have the “responsibility” to “arrest any persons in violation of [the] law.”

MORE: Progressive student fears his peers are killing free speech 

Doug Schwandt, chief of the University of Missouri Police Department, is a member of the 14-person committee.

Jerry’s letter also recommends distributing the committee’s recommended Commitment to Free Expression statement from March in student orientation materials. Both the Faculty Council and Foley have already approved the statement.

Trachtenberg told The Columbia Missourian that after a public feedback period, a series of public meetings will be held in the fall for further discussion.

MORE: Students demand arrest of ‘dangerous’ Condi Rice on campus

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About the Author
Mark Schierbecker -- University of Missouri