Students Protest Northeastern U.'s Demonstration Policy
August 12, 2013
by Susan Kruth
Earlier this summer on The Torch, we reported on a controversy at Northeastern University surrounding the school’s requirement that student organizations obtain a permit at least seven days in advance of campus protests. After the student group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was sanctioned for a walkout-style demonstration at a talk by Israeli soldiers, some questioned whether the school’s response was motivated more by SJP’s message than by their failure to obtain a permit. Last Wednesday, SJP and supporters of the group staged a protest against what they say was selective enforcement of the policy.
But as FIRE’s Will Creeley told The Boston Globe back in June, Northeastern’s permit requirement for demonstrations is problematic even on its face:
“Seven days’ notice is the difference between having one’s message heard and being last week’s news,” says Will Creeley, director of advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which defends campus free-speech rights across the country. Mandating civility “should be anathema at a university that promises freedom of expression,” he says.
Further, Northeastern’s demonstration policy (PDF) fails to clarify what constitutes a “demonstration” that must be approved in advance. The protesters last Wednesday aptly argued that the policy chills student speech and asked Northeastern President Joseph Aoun to revise it.
As of today, Northeastern’s 2012–13 policies remain on its website; FIRE will watch to see whether the school takes action to protect student speech in the upcoming year.