Statement on Disrupting Speakers
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
As President Bollinger made clear in his Commencement Address last May, freedom of speech is a core value of our institution. The University is committed to defend the right of all the members of our community to exercise their right to invite, listen to, and challenge speakers whose views may be offensive and even hurtful to many of us. It is the duty of every member of the community to help preserve freedom of speech for all, including protesters.
This duty does not evaporate when the freedom we enjoy protects community members who invite speakers made famous by grotesquely unfounded and unethical attacks on people whose presence at Columbia, and in the surrounding Harlem community, contribute so much to the diversity that makes us great.
Two years ago, after broad consultation, the Columbia Board of Trustees adopted amended “Rules of University Conduct” to protect freedom of speech for invited speakers and their audiences, as well as for protesters. Since a number of controversial speakers are already scheduled to come to Columbia in the coming weeks and months, it may be helpful for members of the community, especially students, to keep the following points in mind.
- It is a violation of the Rules of University Conduct to interrupt, shout down, or otherwise disrupt an event.
- It is also a violation to obstruct the view of the speaker with banners or placards.
- Individuals engaged in disruption will be asked to identify themselves by a Delegate or Public Safety Officer; it is an additional violation of the Rules to refuse to do so.
- Delegates or Public Safety Officers will request that individuals stop disrupting (e.g., stop shouting, sit down, move to another location); individuals who fail to comply promptly with such a request may be subject to interim sanctions up to and including suspension by the Provost for the rest of the semester.
- On receiving reports of a violation of the Rules of University Conduct, the Rules Administrator will investigate to determine whether a Rules violation may have occurred. The Rules Administrator may meet with students or others involved in a disruption to determine if an informal resolution is possible.
- If informal resolution is not possible, the disciplinary process will continue with the Rules Administrator filing a formal complaint with the University Judicial Board. That Board will follow the procedures specified in the Rules of Conduct. Repeated violations of the Rules of Conduct will be subject to greater penalties.
More detailed information on University free speech policies and procedures is now available on the website of the Office of University Life.
John H. Coatsworth