By Tess Vrbin, 23News Reporter

A policy for the use and regulation of public spaces on MU’s campus was proposed by the Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech and the Press, interim Chancellor Hank Foley announced Thursday via email.

The Committee was created in January in light of campus unrest and protests during the fall 2015 semester. Controversy over freedom of the press erupted after Melissa Click, then an assistant communications professor at MU, called for “some muscle” to remove Mark Schierbecker from the Concerned Student 1950 campsite in November. The Committee’s purpose is to suggest ways for the university to regulate and monitor the use of public spaces without endangering safety or free expression.

According to the Campus Free Expression Act,outdoor areas at MU are traditional public forums. The university can “enforce reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions in service of a significant institutional interest only when such restrictions employ clear, published, content, and viewpoint-neutral criteria, and provide for ample alternative means of expression. Any such restrictions shall allow for members of the university community to spontaneously and contemporaneously assemble.”

The 30-page proposal document recommends that the university allow “orderly events, meetings, rallies, demonstrations, vigils, protests, or assemblies” in public spaces on campus as long as participants do not disrupt university activities and functions, pose safety hazards or cause damage to people or property. The university will interfere with such events if they occur in private spaces such as classrooms, offices, libraries, laboratories, health-care facilities and places that contain valuable records. The proposal does not allow flashing or rotating lights, illuminated signs, or dangerous or disruptive sound amplification. It also prohibits occupation of buildings after their usual closing times without prior authorization, camping in violation of university rules, construction of structures on university property without permission and refusal to stop engaging in prohibited behavior after receiving a warning from MUPD or university officials.

Demonstrators would be required to follow “all applicable laws, regulations and policies” as well as pay any fees required to use a space. Students involved in “spontaneous and unscheduled expressive events and activities” would not be required to pay a fee.

Foley would decide which policy rules would apply to protesters not connected with MU, and the Director of University Events would work with event organizers to reschedule or find different locations for demonstrations if necessary.

The document suggests that demonstrators schedule events with the intended space’s coordinator. Coordinators would decide whether or not the intended space is suitable for the demonstration, taking into account the event’s possible size, noise level, compliance with laws, impact on traffic and health and safety risks. Coordinators or the Director of University Events could deny a group permission to demonstrate if the activity would be unsafe or illegal, if the group has previously damaged university property or if the reservation request is incomplete, inaccurate, in conflict with an existing reservation or not received early enough in advance. Appendix A of the proposal lists various campus spaces and their coordinators’ contact information.

The first part of Appendix B lists outdoor areas in which demonstrations are not allowed without prior scheduling, and the second part lists areas in which spontaneous or previously scheduled demonstrations are allowed. Spontaneous events would not be allowed at a time previously reserved for a planned event. Appendix C provides a list of outdoor spaces not permitted for demonstrations, scheduled or not. All unlisted outdoor spaces are available for spontaneous events.

Appendix D is a guide for the administration to implement the policy. The guide, described as a “series of principles,” acknowledges the complexity of the First Amendment, which protects freedom of expression.

“No single reference guide can hope to answer all questions that will arise in the future with respect to the rights to free speech, expression, and assembly and the limits that can permissibly be imposed by government on those rights,” the document states.

Speakers are entitled to communicate a message that audiences are entitled to hear, the document states.

“The right to dissent and protest complements the right to speak, but circumstances do exist where these rights conflict,” it states.

Under the proposed policy, the university would take any steps necessary to protect and respect both speakers and dissenters.

The guide lists picketing, distribution of literature, vocal response to a speaker and silent protest such as holding signs or wearing symbolic attire as acceptable behaviors as long as they do not disrupt or impede an event. “True threats,” which are violent actions or statements of serious intent to be violent, are never allowed.

The document emphasizes that photography is allowed in public spaces. People may photograph “anything that is in plain view,” and journalists “have this same right to the same extent (neither more nor less) as any other person.” This statement is likely a response to Concerned Student 1950 protestors that attempted to stop student journalist Tim Tai from taking photographs.  

The right exists for counter-demonstrators to voice dissent against a protest, the proposal states, as long as they do not physically disrupt the event they protest.

The document states that all members of the public, including the press, have the right to access public forums unless the university designates an area for exclusive use. It concludes with an explanation of how legal protest differs from civil disobedience, which is defined as “public, non-violent, and conscientious violation of law undertaken for the purpose of bringing about a change in law, government policies, or society.”

Chair of the Ad Hoc Joint Committee on Protests, Public Spaces, Free Speech and the Press Bob Jerry recommended that the university use Campus Mediation Services to resolve disagreements about the use of facilities and grounds, in an email to Foley and Chair of the Faculty Council Ben Trachtenberg. Jerry said three to four people mediators from Campus Mediation Services should be trained in First Amendment issues.

Jerry also stressed the importance of educating faculty, staff and students about First Amendment issues and seeking feedback about the proposed policy in his email.

“Although we believe we are making a good recommendation that will benefit the university, we acknowledge that continued discussion and review are likely to identify ways the proposal can be improved,” Jerry said.

The university is analyzing the drafted policy by comparing it to current rules and regulations, Foley said in the mass email. He is open to suggestions for improving the proposal, he said.

“I’m looking forward to working with faculty, staff, and students as we move forward on this issue,” Foley said.

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