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University should not impede activism

Staff Editorial | Thursday, March 25, 2010

College campuses are traditionally a forum for social activism. In the past, Notre Dame students have exemplified this by protesting issues such as the University’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak on campus and advocating for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the nondiscrimination clause.

In these instances, the University allowed the students’ voices to be heard — something that is crucial to campus life.

Recently, the Office of Residence Life and Housing (ORLH) initiated disciplinary sanctions against several students for passing out flyers protesting the University’s investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts outside the Junior Parents Weekend Mass in February.

The students alleged HEI violates workers rights, particularly the right to unionize. Student groups have asked University President Fr. John Jenkins and Chief Investment Officer Scott Malpass to stop investing in the company several times in the past.

The students facing disciplinary action did not follow the procedure outlined by du Lac, the student handbook, for staging their Feb. 20 demonstration. Du Lac states: “All demonstrations must be registered in writing with the associate vice president for Residence Life.”

But there is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.
The demonstration was not disruptive. Although Notre Dame Security Police had to stop the students from passing out the flyers as they did not have permission to do so, punishment by ORLH is extreme given the peaceful nature of the protest.

Free speech, social activism and thoughtful demonstration should be valued over the regulations for demonstrations in du Lac.

Fear of disciplinary action by the administration should not be a deterrent for students in expressing their ideas — particularly if the idea goes against University policy.

Activism on campus is a visible sign that the student body is thoughtfully questioning social norms and taking actions to right wrongs they see in the world around them. The University should create an environment that fosters this kind of activism.

As student government and the administration are discussing changes to du Lac, they should examine the rules for demonstrations in the handbook.

One University officer, the associate vice president of Residence Life, has the power to register student protests. One person should not have the sole ability to decide which demonstrations have merit and which do not.

The University needs to clarify the role of the associate vice president of Residence Life in registering student demonstrations.

As long as students continue to stage campus demonstrations in a peaceful manner that does not disrupt the freedoms of those around them, disciplinary action for those peaceful protests should be nonexistent.

But for the situation at hand, while the University needed to uphold du Lac by dispersing the February protest, they do not need to punish the students further for expressing their beliefs.

So when deciding on a disciplinary action for the students, ORLH should be purposefully lenient. The students should face the consequences for not following the regulations set by du Lac, but the Office also needs to send the message that the free flow of ideas is important to the administration.

The University needs to show that it values the efforts of students to effect social change.